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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Squeezing watts out of your solar panels -- while shady camping

As we're presently traveling in the Pacific Northwest, our boondocking skills are getting a bit of a challenge in an environment so different from the Southwest. Last night when we rolled into bed, we began wondering if we'd maybe need more blankets -- it seemed so cold! But by morning, it seemed like there were too many blankets. What goes on? A little head scratching revealed that when we rolled into bed, the heavy humidity had made the blankets clammy, and by morning, our personal Btu output had driven out the damp, making them much toastier.

The transition to the Northwest also has made some kind-of-weather-related changes for us. The Northwest's famous (infamous?) rain makes for the growth of beautiful trees. And that's great on a hot summer day -- natural shade makers. But if your rig is equipped with solar panels, those shade producing trees also become solar power killers. What can you do to take advantage of the forest without killing off your power?

Much of it is a balancing act. You'll love those shade trees in summer, when happily, you have the most hours of sunlight. Longer days make for more solar watts, and hopefully, a little shadowing on your panels at time can be made up for in longer hours of available light. But remember, just a little shadow across even a portion of a solar panel, dramatically reduces the panel's production rate.

On arriving at your designated woodsy camping area, you'll have to make your best guess as to what site, or location, to call home. Will you get a few hours of direct sun on your rooftop? Will it be enough? If you'll be staying in the spot for days, you may want not to "sink in your roots" too deeply the first day. Maybe leave the tow vehicle hitched up if you're a trailer user, so you can reposition your rig after you've seen a day's cycle of sunlight.

Other boondockers have set up their solar panels so they can actually remove them from the roof, and set them up at ground level on a temporary frame work. That way, they can park their rig in the shade of the woods, and set the panels up in an adjacent sunny spot. Of course, to accomplish this trick, you'll need to size the wire gauge of your connecting cables to handle the distance from panels to rig without a big voltage drop.

We see some of the enjoyment in RVing is the challenge of overcoming obstacles. Squeezing as many watts out of a shady campsite can be one of them.

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