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Solar panels are getting better. One easy way to get started is with RV panels and two RV batteries.

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Learning from the Ground Up

If you're anything like me, you at one time had encountered the basics of highschool biology, maybe chemistry, a bit of physics, but volts, watts, amps and ohms still just do not compute. Well, they didn't compute, until an excellent salesman at Deluxe RV in Downey, who had himself taken a course in solar electricity so he'd be able to explain the products they sell to RV enthusiasts, began explaining it all to me.

I'm still pretty unclear about the math, but the general concepts are catching hold. He started by telling us one basic fact: the cheapest, smallest panels they have there (about the size of a shoe-box lid),

"...will only keep the battery charged the way it was when you hooked it up."

But such a tiny solar panel ($90) will not RE-charge a drained battery in any appreciable amount of time (say within months). Nor will a medium-small panel, about 15 inches square ($180).

To get a solar panel that will keep an RV battery topped up while you use the energy in that battery on a daily basis, you need the panel that's about $990 (plus tax), and measures maybe 30 X 15 inches (??). That price includes a regulator and control panel as part of the deal, which otherwise would cost about $120 if bought separately. Then you need a deep-cycle 12-volt RV battery, or better yet two of them, at about $120 each.

With two batteries, you have twice as long to use your stored power (or, you can use twice as much power but you will run out in half the time). With two batteries, you stand to be able to run a power tool in an emergency, without too much risk of using up all you've got. (I'm thinking, "What about a hair dryer?")

The regulator shuts off the charger when the battery reaches full charge, an essential feature unless you want to constantly hand-monitor the charge level of the battery. If you over-charge it, it will not be good. (Let the men explain why.)

So, with one of these chargers sitting up on the roof, hooked to two batteries, a regulator, and a control panel somewhere in the house or garage, we would be able to run a computer, a few lights, fan, and.... the TV. Enough to live by should an emergency occur.

The scariest thing about an emergency, as the Katrina hurricane disaster so gut-wrenchingly showed day after day, is that you're cut off from NEWS. Think about it. Without knowledge about what is happening, one cannot plan ANY course of action, even as simple as stepping outside the house, much less driving off somewhere. You might be stepping into, or driving into, a deadly situation. So, one MUST have news, and to have that, one MUST have power. And WIFI! But that's another issue, though important to getting off the grid. Maybe we need a separate page for wifi info... hmmm.

But even beyond this emergency use, the solar panel would allow us to use less grid electricity, thereby reducing our CO2 emissions quite a bit. How much? Oh, maybe x number of volts, er, watts, er kilowatt hours.......

The solar panel we liked at Deluxe RV was by Carmanah (about $980, including controls and regulator), with some others by Sunsei . Deluxe RV's phone number in Downey, California, is 562-531-9123. They're a very excellent, long-standing company.

However, after all that is said, a young guy I know has just told us about new solar panels that deliver MUCHO more power per square inch of wallet space. We will be posting the info here asap.

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SO: Solar Oven, a contraption that, darn it!, cooks using only sunlight
SQ: Solar Barbecue, a solar oven made by converting a standard barbecue