Updated: Jul 9, 2019
What if you could travel the country and still game on your console or PC without the need to be plugged in?
We asked ourselves this very question when we decided to travel full time in an RV. We wanted to be able to enjoy the scenery you get from boondocking or dry camping, terms used to describe being off grid. Some of the best places in the country are only accessible if you are self-contained (water, sewer, power). How we did this was daunting at first, but with a little research, organization, and math we were able to break down what would answer this question most effectively.
We determined how energy works in an RV. Everything in the RV runs on 12V batteries, which are charged by a built-in inverter for certain RVs or Vans, but not so in a travel trailer or 5th wheel. These types of RVs are towed behind a truck and are self-contained with no built-in inverter. Which type of RV, Van, or car you go with will determine what you will need.
We chose a travel trailer for how light it was. We went with an aluminum framed Camplite Livin’lite that was 21 feet long, which we believed was the right amount of space for us. With a lot of organizing and purging, we did fit eventually and found the 21 feet to be just right for our needs.
Lastly, we needed to create a breakdown of what we believed our energy usage would be on the road. What does this mean? It means you must break down the usage of lights, tv, gaming consoles, PCs, phones charging, heater, fridge, water pump, microwave, fans, etc.
Calculating the Amp hours (Ah) of every item and how many hours they would be used in a day helped determine the battery size we needed and therefore the solar array size.
Calculating Power Consumption of household items:
There is a breakdown of how this is done in the Solar-Powered Gaming post.
Having a wattage meter helps immensely in determining the actual wattage use of a product. You can find one here on Amazon. For an easy overestimate, use the watts provided underneath devices or look it up online.
Examples of power usage in gaming are:
112 Watts Gaming
74 Watts Streaming
16 Watts Standby
137 Watts Gaming
89 Watts Streaming
8.5 Watts Standby
Samsung 4K UHD Monitor 28”:
These numbers are your power consumption. From here, we can figure out the Watt hours (Wh). I like to use 8 hours as the default time you use for gaming products. For blenders or microwaves, you’re looking at maybe 5 min per day.
Watt Hour (Wh) Conversion – 8 Hours of Gaming per day:
(112 Watts Gaming) x (8 hours) = 896 Wh
(74 Watts Streaming) x (8 hours) = 592 Wh
(16 Watts Standby) x (8 hours) = 128 Wh
(137 Watts Gaming) x (8 hours) = 1,096 Wh
(89 Watts Streaming) x (8 hours) = 712 Wh
(8.5 Watts Standby) x (8 hours) = 68 Wh
Samsung 4K UHD Monitor 28”:
(29.6 Watts) x (8 hours) = 237 Wh
*Now we can divide our Watt hour conversions by the volts in our battery system, which is on DC, and uses 12 volts.
Amp Hour (Ah) Conversion – 8 Hours of Gaming per day on 12v battery:
(112 Watts Gaming) x 8 = 896 Wh / 12v = 75 Ah
(74 Watts Streaming) x 8 = 592 Wh / 12v = 49 Ah
(16 Watts Standby) x 8 = 128 Wh / 12v = 2 Ah
(137 Watts Gaming) x 8 = 1,096 Wh / 12v = 91 Ah
(89 Watts Streaming) x 8 = 712 Wh / 12v = 59 Ah
(8.5 Watts Standby) x 8 = 68 Wh / 12v = 6 Ah
Samsung 4K UHD Monitor 28”:
29.6 Watts x 8 hours = 237 Wh / 12v = 20 Ah
Solar Power Array, Battery Size, & Inverter:
If we add up the numbers, considering the Ah of every other item in the RV (yes, you need to calculate them all), you’ll end up with a total Ah for your daily usage. We found that we were around 100-300 Ah daily, on the high end. We are usually around 100 Ah daily. We went with 500 Ah of lithium batteries.
As for the solar panels, a general rule of thumb is that a 100-watt panel will generate 30 Ah per day. Panels are now sold in 170-watt systems, so we went with three 170-watt panels, giving us around 153 Ah generated of solar per day. We went with a larger battery bank so that we could go longer before needing a large charge. With our current build, we can game all day without loss of battery during sunny days in spring and summer. In the winter, it diminishes considerably, which I’ll talk about later. It may be noted, we could use more panels, but we were limited in space on the roof, only able to fit three panels. Due to these constraints, we went with three max wattage panels.
As for the inverter, we went with a 2000-watt inverter that has an initial surge of 3500 watts, enough to start the AC unit and run it. This size allows us to run everything we need. We also had the inverter wired into the entire system so that when we turn on the inverter panel, all plugs are active at 120V.
Sun Angle in Winter (To Angle or Not to Angle-That is the Question):
When we were in Zion National Park, we stumbled upon a display at the visitor center that mentioned the angle of the sun changing throughout the winter, being much lower than it is in the summer. It’s as if a lightbulb went off in our heads. We had completely forgotten about the angle of the sun and were starting to experience lower yields than we had during the summer.
In the summer months we could game and use power without fear of running out. As fall and winter approached, things were changing. This is why some people angle their solar panels. Our panels are on three separate sides making this option pointless. The added cost and hassle to make them angled isn't worth it if you have lithium.
Without angled panels, and us not realizing the angle of the sun, our batteries died on us…multiple times before we read this at Zion. We had to get a generator for the winter months. The nice thing about lithium-ion batteries is that they will bulk charge to full in a couple of hours, less for a smaller system. For our 500 Ah system, it takes around 2-4 hours for a full charge.
Our system was designed around gaming and we are happy with our build, which has allowed us to game for 12 or more hours per day without much loss of battery. By having lithium batteries, our system charges faster with the panels we have, affords us more energy usage than other systems, and delivers high end performance for gaming and our other needs.