The time of year has come when my solar panels can’t keep my batteries charged if I’m running Starlink all day. This became clear two nights ago when I was watching videos, then my battery monitor started beeping a low voltage warning. I’d foolishly run Starlink all day, which I was able to do when the days were longer, but it seems I can’t get away with doing anymore.
It was still early enough that I could hook up and run the generator without bothering what few distant neighbors I have right now. I didn’t run it too long, just enough to top me off to get through the night — I hoped.
The beeping started again at 6:00 am. This was too early to run the generator, so I ran the engine instead. This also pumped a lot more power from my alternator into the batteries, charging them a lot more quickly. But even as the voltage increased, the beeping wouldn’t stop. I ended up unplugging the battery monitor for a while so I could get a little more sleep. Later on, around 9:00 am, I hooked up the generator again to run until the sun was high enough give me some effective solar charging, and ran it again for a while after sundown. I didn’t use Starlink all day until watching videos last night, but after a couple of hours my voltage once again dropped quickly, just like the previous night. Running the engine got things back above danger level, and I shut everything I could off for the night.
Lister woke me up to go out at 1:00 am. That wasn’t happening. He woke me up again at 5:00 am. It was still dark, so that still wasn’t happening. But, I looked at my Renogy app to check my voltage (I unplugged the battery monitor so it would stop complaining at me), and it was down to danger level again. It was dark, so no solar charging, and it was too early to run the generator. So I made preparations for warp speed, then drove to Parker to get a coffee. Lister yowled most of the way, because I had the audacity to not let him out when he demanded it.
This gave me almost two hours with more than 300 watts of alternator charging before the sun came up. Now the sun is doing its thing, and I’m running the generator as well for over 200 watts of combined charging. My plan is to do what it takes to get my batteries fully charged again, which basically means stacking my generator charging on top of my solar charging like I’m doing now until both chargers say the batteries are full. At least I didn’t have any real plans for today. I’m not working, so I don’t need Starlink today.
I’m clearly going to have to be more efficient about how I use Starlink, and run it only when I’m actively online. Verizon is weak but perfectly usable this early in the season. One pleasant surprise was to turn on both of my hotspots to check the situation, and find full scale signal strength on my T-Mobile hotspot. Last year I had no T-Mobile service whatsoever in Quartzsite, so this is a pleasant surprise. There must be a new T-Mobile tower nearby. So, for now, I can balance my cellular data usage against my Starlink power usage, and between all three I should have all the internet I need until the masses descend on Quartzsite and overload the cell towers. I have time to figure out my Starlink and power situation before then.
I also ordered another upgrade from Amazon, a 20-amp charger to replace my current 10-amp one. Ten amps is fine if I’m plugged into shore power for.a while, but it’s not using my generator’s full 2,000 watt capability. The 20-amp charger will use most of it, meaning not only more charging capability but also not having to run the generator for as long. The only downside of this charger is that it seems to only have alligator clips for the battery terminals, not ring terminals like I want for a permanent connection. But it’s easy enough to cut the alligator clips off and add ring terminals myself.
The possibility exists that there might be a problem with my Renogy AGM batteries. I need to look up testing procedures so that once they’re fully charged, I can verify that they’re still good. It’s strange to think about, but they’re almost two years old. Though I’ve only been on the road a year and a half, those batteries were among the first things I bought for the van two winters ago, and pretty much built it around them. They only have a two-year warranty, and I’m approaching the end of it. Though if they do have problems, I’d seriously consider an upgrade to lithium batteries while I’m at it. They’re not cheap, but unlike when I first built the van, I can afford them now, and to improve my storage capacity while I’m at it. Two 200 amp-hour lithium batteries will nearly double my storage capacity over my AGMs of the same value, since you can only discharge AGM batteries 50% before damaging them. I hope I haven’t done that, but it’s possible.
At least I discovered this problem early in the season. Verizon and now T-Mobile are still usable backups while I figure out my new power and charging routine. I hadn’t expected to need the generator this early, but at least I have it ready to go, as it hums along right now.