If you’re thinking about using a photovoltaic solar power system for your tiny home, trailer, camper, or van, this post is for you.
I have given many presentations and talks about simple solar power (I've spoken at more than 25 tiny house workshops and events in the last 2 years), and I get the SAME question every single time. Everyone wants to know:
“How much solar power do I need to run a _______ (camper, tiny house, etc)?”
"How many panels do I need?"
"How much will it cost?”
Here’s the thing:
It varies for each person and each situation. Why? Because it all depends entirely on how much energy/electricity you use on a daily basis.
Someone who uses a hairdryer every morning, a vacuum, and a microwave is going to have different needs than someone who doesn’t use those things. There’s no “one size fits all” answer.
Today I’m going to show you how you can save money on your Photovoltaic system by lightening your “load”. When we’re talking about photovoltaic solar power, the “load” is how much energy you use every day. Everyone will have a unique situation and different “loads”, because we all have different habits and want different amenities in our homes (trailer, cabin, van, RV, etc).
The total watt usage of the appliances that you use is called the “LOAD.”
These are things that I have done in the COMET to lighten the load on the PV system, thus allowing me to have fewer panels (less to deal with!) and save money on the cost of the system. The more panels and batteries you need, the more it will cost.
Looking at your energy usage comes before all else. Before you look at Photovoltaic systems, before you decide what you will "need", before you compare prices and components, you must focus on conserving energy first.
This guide will help you decide where to conserve so you can make informed decisions moving forward.
LIGHTEN THE LOAD
- Choose a broom instead of a vacuum cleaner.
- Have a clothesline instead of an electric drier.
- Use a solar-cooker instead of the microwave (the solar cooker is also the perfect replacement for an electric slow-cooker).
- Ditch the hairdryer.
- Have a simple solar shower for the summer months (gravity fed and heated by the sun)
- Trade in your TV for a laptop, consolidating how many gadgets you need to power
- Use LED lighting for maximum efficiency
- Use a hand or foot pump or gravity fed water system
- Use propane where applicable: fridge, heater, cook top, oven. (Using electricity for heat is very inefficient).
- Lose the toaster oven and grill your bagels
These are little things you can do in your daily routine to cut down on energy usage.
Some people ask me “can I have ___ in my house on solar power?” or they say “But I need my ____!” and that’s totally fine! It’s your home and you should design it the way you want. You’ll just have to design your PV system around your needs. That’s pretty much the foundation of living on your own terms, designing something to suit your unique needs!
In addition, here's what I did in the COMET:
Solar heated water is perfect for quick showers (use all natural, biodegradable soaps + shampoos) and is also good for washing dishes in warm water when it's nice out.
Hand Pump Faucet:
This was an easy decision, as the Rocket Pump faucets were original to the 1960's campers. But anyone trying to save electricity can use this option in place of an electric pump, and save some energy. If I had to do it again I would go with a foot pump faucet, which is still manually powered but you don't have to pump with one hand while you wash the other.
LED light bulbs:
These are energy saving alternatives to traditional light bulbs. The 60 watt equivalent uses about 7 watts. They have the same energy usage as the CFL light bulbs, but last 10x longer - which means less waste in the landfill.
My composting toilet conserves water by not using any! Flush toilets take 3 really valuable resources - fresh drinking water, urine, and humanure, and turns it into sewage, which needs to be treated with harsh chemicals to be water again. You can avoid this wasteful system by having a composting toilet that diverts urine, so all 3 resources can be used more effectively. My composting toilet requires no additional energy to work.
People always talk about getting more efficient boilers, heaters, and appliances. But the real savings comes not in the newest technology, but in minimizing waste. In this case, you need to minimize wasted heat before thinking about buying a new "green" heat source.
Increasing insulation and air-tightness will save you money and energy. In the COMET, I replaced old fiberglass with UltraTouch Denim insulation. If you were building from scratch, you could use any number of insulations. Consider super-insulation techniques if you are building from scratch, and this will save you energy and money.
If you can reduce your energy needs, you won't have to spend a lot of money on heat and electricity systems.
Photovoltaic systems are becoming more and more affordable, but they still require an upfront investment and I chose to save as much as I could by reducing my load while still maintaining comfort.
So, I want to know, what are some things you would (or wouldn't!) do to lighten your load on your PV system in your tiny home, trailer, camper or RV?
Could you give up the microwave or hair drier? Why or why not?