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The Solar Powered Woody Teardrop Camper

Posted by: chris
September 13, 2012

SEI's Director of Online and Student Services, Chris Turek, blogs about his summer project...  "Ever since I started working for Solar Energy International I was excited by the idea of having my own battery-based PV system attached to an RV or camper that I could take my family out into the Colorado wilderness and have a few days to a week of power.  My wife really isn't the "roughing it" type and really wanted running water, lights, and a TV if she was going to venture out into the "wild".   She also had some major concerns about the bears in the area and was totally against tent camping and required something with hard sides.     

I had two issues I was up against - #1 I didn't own a hard sided camper and #2 I had no clue where to start when it came to battery-based PV systems.  So what does a husband who REALLY wants to go camping in an off-grid PV powered camper do in this situation?  Well, in my overly obsessive mind,  you embark on building a custom, hard-sided, Woody Teardrop camper and take an intro online course on battery-based PV systems from SEI!  Just like any other rationally thinking person - right?

So after quite a bit of research on hard sided camper options, I chose to take a 5x8 ATV trailer and build it up into a Teardrop Camper - basically a queen size bed on wheels.   I wanted the project to embody as much of the sustainable building and renewable energy topics I have been exposed to here at SEI so I used Forrest Steward Council certified wood, insulated it with recycled denim jeans, and wrapped the roof with Aluminum to help with reflecting heat away from the camper and keep the inside temperatures down. 

A special thanks to SEI Sustainable Building instructor Laura Bartels, of GreenWeever Inc. for telling me about recycled denim for insulation - better for the inside air quality of the camper!   Another special thanks to Carol Weiss for giving me a charge controller, advice, and moral support for this project and Ken Gardner of Gardner Engineering Services (and SEI instructor) for telling me about some interesting consumer solar products that are coming on the market.  A huge thanks goes out to Phil Friedman, Kris Sutton, and Jeff Tobe of SEI to let me pick their brains about wiring, batteries, and all other sorts of details I am still learning as a solar neophyte.  



Now onto the solar training part, which was quite honestly the part of this project that was the most fun.  As an SEI team member I get to take an online course for free every year.   SEI's new PVOL203 Prep: Battery-Based PV System Fundamentals online course was the perfect fit for me to take and learn the basics I was going to need for the small battery-based PV system I was planning on integrating into the camper. 

The things I realized right away in the PV203 Prep online course was:

#1 - I work with some of the most knowledgeable instructors and practitioners in the solar industry
#2 - Even though this was an intro prep course for battery-based systems, it covered topics from small PV systems all the way up to large off-grid residential considerations
#3 - I had a lot to learn if I wanted to build this system safely and be able to produce the clean renewable energy I wanted to power my camper!

In the end, the Woody Teardrop was successfully built and my first battery-based PV system is almost done with a fair amount of mistakes and lessons learned along the way.  I know I have a biased opinion about the PV203 Prep online course, but I can quite honestly say I learned more in that online course that I was able to apply right away in a tangible project than any other online learning experience I have ever had.  If you want to experience this level of instructional quality - you should take this online course or ANY of SEI's online courses too - register for PV203 Prep today!"

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