Generator vs. Solar Panels

We are planning a trip on the Gibb River Road next summer in one of Britz's 4WD campers. We would like to bush camp as much as possible but are not sure how to do this and keep the fridge cool. According to Britz, we need to connect to power every two days to charge the battery that runs the fridge... but there are few powered sites along the Gibb River Road! So, I was wondering:

- Do we need to take a generator to charge the battery for the fridge?
- Could we get enough power if we rented some solar panels?

Thanks so much for your help.

Comments for Generator vs. Solar Panels

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Solar Panels V Gen Set
by: Anonymous

I've been up there (GRR) and struggled to keep power up to the fridges with vehicle charging and some solar. It was extra hot that year (Min 30°, Max 40°) and the fridges were working endlessly. In fact I failed and probably damaged batteries.
I noted that those who were successful had heaps of solar. 300 to 700W was common; and a gen set as back up. Bigger is better.
Our travelling companions had a gen set as a standby and that was often used - especially when we had a week of cloudy weather. But there are restrictions on their use at camp sites.
Another consideration is that my fridges were sensitive to low voltage cut-out. And my vehicle alternator (smart one) would not pick up batteries sufficiently during daily driving to last the night (without solar). So know these parameters.
Summary, and my recommendations if travelling the Kimberley:
*Lots of solar - say 300W; preferably most of it fixed to roof of vehicle and camper.
*Gen set back up - 1KVA will suffice.
*Know how effective your vehicle charging your auxiliary storage is. Smart alternators may not be sufficient. Heavy wire and good connections to limit volt drop are paramount.

Solar panels or generator
by: Melanie

I travelled the Gibb for 6 weeks in the peak season which was quite hot and used solar only. My auxiliary battery was a deep cycle and I made sure the fridge was set on medium as having it on high made it cut out at low battery voltage. I have never had any concerns travelling with solar only. I have 2 solar panels equalling 800 watts and it is plenty to keep the fridge charged and to charge various other things like phones, iPods etc. You can always park in the shade, use sun shields and keep air flow in the car to reduce the work the fridge needs to do. Some camp sites don't allow generators on the Gibb either. Good luck.

Solar and Dc to DC charger is the way to go
by: Niftymac

I suggest getting a minimum of 200W portable solar panel and a seperate 120Ah aux battery hooked up to a DC to DC charger that will charge the aux battery when travelling along, the Dc to DC will pump up the voltage to ensure a great charge rate of the battery.

Turn the fridge right up to coldest when travelling and then turn right down of a night. When camping get the solar panels out and maximise the sun and charge rates, move the panels around during the day to ensure max. sun coverage.

I am not a fan of generators, some beautiful camp sites have been spoilt of an evening with generators running to late into the night!
Good luck, hope all goes well, the Kimberleys are amazing.
We did the Gibb back in June of this year in a caravan with solar and DC to DC charger and never looked like running out of power and always had cold beer and wine!

Go solar!
by: Kate

Definitely go solar for a few reasons!
- Some camp sites don't allow generators or only allow you to use them at set times; but solar can go anywhere!
- Gennys are noisy
- Also if you take a genny you have to stuff around with carrying extra fuel etc. and fuelling up the genny is a pain.
- You will have ongoing fuel costs with a genny but with a solar panel you just need a new auxillary battery about every 3 years.

In my troopy I have a deep cycle auxillary battery to run my fridge.
It MUST be deep cycle not a normal car battery, as deep cycle batteries can handle being drained a lot better than your average car battery, which won't last very long if you keep flattening it. The deep cycle seems to need replacing about every 3 years.
This powers my 55L Evakool fridge freezer for months at a time, with it set on "economy", which keeps everything frozen in the freezer half, but does not freeze the lettuce in the fridge half!
When I drive the alternator charges both the auxillary and starter batteries.
When stationary the auxillary battery is charged with a 120 watt solar panel. If it is overcast or I don't put the solar panel out it will still run the fridge for about 2 days.

A tip - DON'T MOUNT YOUR SOLAR PANEL ON YOUR CAR!!!
Or you have to park in the sun all the time.
And it is likely to get damaged by rocks flying up, like your windscreen.
Plus you will have to climb up and clean the bugs and dust off it all the time.

My mechanic fitted a plug to the roobar so I plug the solar panel in there to charge the auxillary, without having to leave the car with its bonnet up all the time.

In Summary...
by: Lissajous

All the above is useful. However, note the common theme. You ideally need to know your vehicle. That can be difficult if renting.

As an electrical engineer myself I can really appreciate the dc-dc chargers. They correct for voltage drop on long / undersized cables, correct for the lower voltages of modern "smart" alternators and implement battery charging characteristics that greatly prolong the life of your expensive deep discharge battery.

Another option is a gas fridge (and carry a small 2nd bottle for reserve). However, that may not be an option if renting.

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