Solar, Executed

Time was running out so I went to a local company and asked their opinion. And I am glad I did! I was stuck in analysis paralysis. Casey at Susitna Energy helped me get over it and pull some triggers. He convinced me that 300 watts (one panel) was enough, then he convinced me that I would be very happy with the Midnight Solar Kidd 30 amp charge controller, even though it did not have a remote display, or a hacking cult. I knew we were about to get busy and this was an important upgrade to get checked off my list before things get serious. Turns out, I was right about all that.
So, the first visit I brought home the panel, ($400) and started designing the mount in my head (more for another post) I researched charge controllers again, and decided if I could mount the charge controller in the right place, I wouldn’t need the extra install time for a remote display, and if ever get bored I will hack the controller if necessary. Second trip, I brought home the 30 amp Midnight Solar “kidd”
Installation took about 2 days with perfection and fabrication of the homegrown (tracking ready) mount. (still working on the tracking mechanism but the panel is mounted and I have at least one pivot point to work with in the future.
It is mounted spanning the top rails of the Ladder rack, plenty of airflow to keep them cool (and more efficient) and no self induced shadowing. I powered up the system at about 8PM on an overcast night and started making about 10 watts  (that is better than 0)
12 hours later we took off for a 750 mile+, 72 hour jaunt to Fairbanks. It was sunny and 81 in Fairbanks and while we were parked at the job site, we saw 230+ watts and “Float” (which is why Casey recommended more batteries.

I currently have 2 Duracell 240Wh 6 volts, but watching the charge controller I now feel that I am wasting “free” energy, and want to be able to store more. (next project)

With the solar, we can keep the batteries topped off, and make ice (and other coldness) in the fridge (about 6.5 amps 70ish watts) and power the DC stuff without charging off the engine. We still start the engine to run the microwave for over about 30 secs. Incidentally, tonight we ran the micro on defrost (on a couple of New York’s) for 14 minutes with the engine running, and the solar panels contributing about 30 watts. The battery (the collection of batteries) still look like they will make it through the night.

Fast forward. We returned from the Fairbanks trip at noonish on Thursday, shit showered, shaved and did laundry then left for Juneau (1500 miles+ plus a ferry ride, plus a border crossing, 24 hours later. Except for the 23 hours at home, we have been “boondocking” for almost a week and have done over 1600 miles.

It is now Sunday night, we are in Juneau AK. We have made our own ice from the power of the sun all week, kept a lot of Dr. Peppers, and Rockstars nice and cold, NOT eaten out (because we brought real food in the fridge,) and thawed 2 New York strip(s) with a microwave without an electric bill. The grill is ready to light and we are tucked into a national forest campsite (for 10 bucks a night, NO HOOKUPS) cuz Juneau is a tourist town and frowns upon squatting.)

It has been an amazing magic sprinter week. We have taken 2 trips of a lifetime through Alaska and the Yukon. Check out @AlaskaTammy for the travelogue.

Priority projects. (in order)

  1. External (directional) antenna for the 4G router
  2. Get the cell booster working better (external directional antenna)
  3. 2 more batteries.
  4. Better, more secure, convenient mount for the torch.

Stay tuned…


I seem to have a mental block with math, or at least with numbers. I can feel my brain, walk a way when confronted with numbers. I can’t see, or remember model numbers of equipment, or designators, or whatever.  In math, though I usually understand the equations enough to figure them out, but, I have trouble getting the numbers into the right place in equations.

So today (this week actually) I am working laboriously at figuring out my power (from solar) requirements to bring the magicsprinter one step closer to “expedition vehicle” status, or at least full time vanlife status. (it will never be 4wd unless I find a way to raise the 25k price of conversion). So, “fulltime vanlife” is probably the apex of the magicsprinters identity.)

Digression, sorry….

Lack of power is your dilemma…

Since installing the (residential) refrigeration unit (4.5 ft2 ) I have been forced to try and understand the numbers. I know the fridge draws about 6 Amps (70 watts) at the battery. (my fantastic fan draws at 1 to 3 amps) I don’t know how much my interior lighting draws (cuz I don’t have any, and it is summer in Alaska, so it is light out way later than I need interior lighting.) I can probably safely give it a number of 2 amps (24 watts) But, I am having trouble converting that to the important number of kWh (Kilowatt hours)

I am pretty sure my design needs to work from that number, I have to spend a grand or two to find out.

Here is what I know so far…

  • Monochristaline solar panels. (12v in series to match the input of the charge controller (voltage and wattage)
    • Independent (self-cooling)  mounts (not flexible stickyback)
  • MPPT charge controller
    • Matched to solar panels (V?, W?)
    • Match to battery bank.
      • I Have 2 6V 240Ah wet cells.
      • May want to convert to lithium in future (if I can ever afford it)
      • Would like to optimize the charge control for maximum life of battery
  • Inverter/charger/transfer switch
    • I Probably need around 3Kw Invertor (I currently have 2k)
      • I would like Inversion, charge control (from mains) and automatic transfer (mains to battery) to be automatic, transparent, and perhaps integrated into one unit.
  • Battery
    • Do I need to increase my capacity?
  • Physical plant
    • Heavy gauge wire
    • Good connectors
    • Circuit protection (breakers)
    • Sealed roof penetrations
    • Custom mounts for solar panel(s)

I have been making a materials list but still have not settled on any of the components (The numbers still don’t seem to want to line up in my head)

Stay tuned….

I am pretty sure i need at least 600 watts. BUT, this is a reasonable representation. I would have 2, 300 watt panels probably wired in series (24v, 600W)
My rendition so far…