Our autonomy and comfort depend a lot on the electrical system of our DIY camper van conversion. No power means no fridge, no lights, no smartphone = no Instagram & no #vanlife as we know it! Therefore, we want our electrical system to be reliable and to work from the first time; trial-and-error is not acceptable here!
After more than a year on the road, we’re happy to report that our system works as we planned. Nice! Designing the electrical system was one of the most intimidating task of the conversion process and if you’re reading this it might be your case too…
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We’re here to help. Here is how it goes:
- PART A is where YOU grab a drink, relax and read on.
- PART B is where WE relax and YOU do the work!
- PART A: THEORY
- 1- What Do We Expect From Our Electrical System?
- 2- Power Consumption
- 3- Battery Bank
- 4- Charge Sources
- 5- System Monitor
- 6- Battery Bank Sizing
- 7- Electrical Wire
- 8- Fuses and Breakers
- 9- Loads
- 10- Our Electrical System
- 11- If we had to start over
- PART B: YOUR TURN TO SHINE!
- 12- Your Electrical System
- 13- The Easy Way
- 14- Conclusion
Note: This is the new and improved article published on April 2018. If you like to live in the past follow this link: faroutride.com/ford-transit-camper-van/conversion-planning/electrical-system-2017/
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PART A: THEORY
1- What Do We Expect From Our Electrical System?
- Power all of our “fixed” loads (fan, lights, fridge, water pump, etc) and power our “external” loads as well (phones, laptop, cameras, etc)
- Charge from solar, van alternator and from shore power
- Have an inverter for occasional and modest use of 120V
- Be completely autonomous in full-sun condition and have a few days autonomy in absence of solar power and driving (no charge source)
2- Power Consumption
Our power consumption will dictate the “size” of our components (solar panel, battery, inverter, etc). Let’s make a list of our loads and calculate how much Ah (ampere hour) we will draw in total each day.
|Predicted Daily Power Consumption|
|Load||Description||Measured Instantaneous Consumption
|Calculation Assumptions||Calculation||Daily Consumption (Ah)|
|Fridge||Novakool R5810||4.0A||24h per day @ 35% duty cycle||4.0A * 35%*24h=||34Ah|
|Lights||3W LED||1.3A (total 10 lights @ 100% intensity)||4h per day @ 80% intensity||1.3A*80%*4h=||4Ah|
|Fan|| Maxxfan 6200K
(10 speed settings)
|0.2A@1, 0.4A@2, 0.5A@3, 0.8A@4, 1.1A@5, 1.5A@6, 2.0A@7, 2.6A@8, 3.3A@9, 4.4A@10||24h per day @ 3 average||0.5A*24h=||12Ah|
Our summer prediction was 55Ah and we are actually consuming 59Ah on average. Pretty close! The temperatures were quite hot during the period we measured our consumption; the fridge and all the fans are working hard! It will be interesting to make more measurements in Autumn when temperatures are milder…
We predict that our daily consumption is similar for summer & winter because in winter the fridge draws less power, but it is balanced by the Webasto air heater that needs some electrical power.
|Load||Description||Measured Instantaneous Consumption (A)||Calculation Assumptions||Calculation||Daily Consumption (Ah)|
|Fridge||Novakool R5810||4.0A||24h per day @ 20% duty cycle||4.0A * 20%*24h=||20Ah|
|Lights||3W LED||1.3A (total 10 lights @ 100% intensity)||8h per day @ 70% intensity||1.3A*70%*8h=||7Ah|
(10 speed settings)
|0.2A@1, 0.4A@2, 0.5A@3, 0.8A@4, 1.1A@5, 1.5A@6, 2.0A@7, 2.6A@8, 3.3A@9, 4.4A@10||12h per day @ 2 average||0.4A*12h=||4Ah|
|Air Heater||Webasto Air Top 2000 STC||Guesstimate…||20Ah|
We don’t have the actual measurements for winter yet; wait for it!
3- Battery Bank
We just determined that we will draw about 55Ah daily. Does it mean that, to have 4 days autonomy, we need a 55Ah*4days = 220Ah battery bank? No! There are more variables to take account of… keep reading the whole page and we will size the battery bank afterward…
3.1- Temperature de-rate of the battery bank
If you know someone that owns an electric car, you probably know that his/her car will do about half the mileage in winter than in summer (it might not be that bad in California, but it is in Quebec… yep, it’s cold up here!). Batteries are much less efficient in cold weather. The exact loss will, of course, depend on the battery temperature, but we will assume 30% less efficient as a general rule. For example, a 210Ah battery bank will actually deliver 210Ah*70% = 147Ah. Or, we could say that our daily consumption of 55Ah is in fact 55Ah*1.3 = 72Ah. We have to keep that in mind.
3.2- Charging a frozen battery
First of all, unlike water, a battery will not freeze at 32F (0°C). The freezing temperature of the battery depends on the depth of discharge. As the state of charge in a battery decreases, the electrolyte becomes more like water and the freezing temperature increases. It is very important to make sure your battery stays fully charged in extreme cold weather. If a battery freezes, it can damage the plates and container leading to a potential explosion. A frozen battery must NOT be charged! Consult your battery manual.
As a guideline, this is extracted from our Rolls Battery Manual:
|Depth of Discharge
3.3- Depth of Discharge
The cycle life of a battery is directly affected by the depth of discharge. What is the depth of discharge? It is how deeply the battery was discharge during one cycle. Let’s say that a fully charge battery is 100% and a fully discharged battery is 0%. If we draw 30% of available capacity (from a fully charged battery), the depth of discharge is 70% (there is 70% of Ah remaining before the battery is 0%).
For AGM batteries, it is recommended not to go below 50% depth of discharge to maximize the battery life (it might be different for different type of batteries).
So, if one’s consumption is 55Ah daily and has a 100Ah battery bank, it means that at the end of the day the depth of discharge is 45Ah/100Ah = 45%? Well, not exactly… because the battery bank will get charged throughout the day by solar or by driving the van or by getting power from shore power. In fact, we observe our minimal depth of discharge in the morning just before the sunrise. Indeed, we dont have any charge source during the night. What we experienced so far is a depth of discharge of about 75-95% in the morning cause by the loads that run overnight (fan, fridge, air heater and some lights).
3.4- About battery types
There are many types of battery available. Let’s play PROS and CONS :
- Cheapest battery type available
- High maintenance (needs to be filled periodically with water and kept in a vented compartment)
- Similar to Flooded lead-acid but the gel wont spill as easily
- Similar to Flooded lead-acid
- Must be charged at low rate
- Low maintenance, good low-temperature performance
- Expensive to buy (but good value in the long run)
- Light Weight, low maintenance, low self discharged, can be discharged deeper without affecting battery life
- Cannot be charged when frozen
4- Charge Sources
If we had no charge sources at all, we would require a 220Ah battery bank to hold 4 days @ 55Ah daily consumption (in summer). In fact, we would require 440Ah if we dont want to go below 50% depth of discharge! Fortunately, there are multiple ways of recharging the battery to minimize the battery bank.
4.1- Solar Power
Harvesting power from the sun feels a bit like cheating to us; this is the exciting part of the electrical system! It is free to use, but it is not exactly cheap to setup at first.
4.1.1- The Panels
How many watts?
As a general rule of thumb, a 100W solar panel can generate about 5A/hr at peak power, that’s about 25Ah per day (sunny, summer day, best-case scenario).
We calculated previously that we will draw about 55Ah per day; it would be nice if the solar panel could provide at least that amount of power… We need 55Ah\25Ah*100W = 220W solar panel(s) to compensate exactly for our loads draw. Well, a bit more actually if we account for cold temperature de-rate & cloudy weather. However, solar power is not our only power source! When driving the van we will get some power from that as well; we have to keep that in mind…
Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline?
We read quite a bit about that and came to the conclusion that, these days, the quality of the solar panel (manufacturer) is more important than the type of the panel. If you want to learn more about that, Google is your friend! To start, here is a good article.
Should we use 1 large panel, or 2 smaller panels?
At the time of our research, we could buy one 300W or two, let’s say, 160W panels for 320W total. The cost of the 300W is generally higher than two smaller one, but is it really if you account that you need additional hardware to connect the two panels together (cables, connectors, junction box, etc…)?
One larger panel instead of two smaller ones:
- Simple to install (no junction box and connectors)
- Higher working voltage = lower amperage = minimize loss
- Large physical size
- Higher working voltage = use of MPPT charge controller recommended
Partial Shading is Evil!
When locating your panel(s) on the roof, ensure that no partial shading will be induced by any others component (fan, roof rack, etc). Shading of just one cell could completely “block” the output of the panel! Many panels now come with bypass diodes that will allow the current to flow “around” the shaded cell(s) and therefore minimize the effect of partial shading.
A panel will deliver more current if oriented directly towards the sun. On large commercial solar plant, the panels are mounted on a motor-driven device that will optimized the orientation of the panel automatically throughout the day. Obviously, there is no such device for a van roof (until when?) BUT it is possible to add a tilt kit similar to this one:
Adding a tilt kit will obviously add weight and slightly raise the panel(s). If we were to park for extended period of time at the same place, we might consider a tilt kit. But knowing that we will move pretty much everyday, we don’t feel like it’s worth the hassle.
We chose to install two panels of 160W each, for a total of 320W. This is quite a lot of power, but we’re not messing around here!
Note: Two solar panels increase the complexity of the installation (more parts, more time, more connections, more $). We also considered a single 300W solar panel. Note that this panel is 24V, so a MPPT charge controller should be used:
You might be interested in:
From now on, we will use 320W solar power in our calculation. This should provide 320W\100W*25A (remember, each 100W gives about 25A per day) = 80Ah of charge per day during summer, 30 Ah of charge per day during winter (guesstimate, time will tell for winter).
4.1.2- The Charge Controller
How many amps?
Charge controllers are rated based on the amount of amperage they can process from the solar panels.
Solar Panel Max. Watts / Solar Panel Max. Voltage = 320W / 18.5V = 17.30A
AMPS x Surge factor = 17.30A x 25% = 21.62A
Therefore a charge controller of at least 22A is required.
PWM or MPPT?
MPPT are the latest thing in solar charge controllers. They are more efficient than PWM in cold temperature, partially sunny day and if the voltage of your solar panels are superior to the voltage of your battery bank. However they consume a small amount of power for themselves (it’s almost nothing really) and are more expensive than PWM. The debate rage about the MPPT efficiency over PWM, but it is believed to be around 10%-20% more efficient depending on the conditions.
MPPT VS PWM, What Others Have to Say:
- See Bogart Engineering take on MPPT vs PWM charge controller debate here (see FAQ “C1″)
- MorningStar MPPT vs PWM comparison.
- Victron MPPT vs PWM: Which solar charger to choose?
- Side-to-side, real world testing of MPPT vs PWM charge controller here.
MPPT VS PWM, What We Have to Say:
- We first installed a PWM charge controller (Bogart Engineering) and then upgraded to a MPPT (Victron SmartSolar).
- While we can’t exactly quantify the improvement, we immediately noticed more charging current; we observed 24A with the Victron while the most we got with the Bogart was 16A.
- We also noticed more power earlier in the morning and during overcast weather.
- OK we’re sold to the Victron!!
Here you will find our review about the Victron MPPT SmartSolar Charger, Battery Monitor and VictronConnect App. We also go through the installation, initial setup and operation process. We have a bunch of cool screenshots and things to say about the Victron so go read the article 🙂
4.2- Charging while driving
4.2.1- Battery-to-Battery charger (B2B)
This option is quite popular these days as it provide many advantages:
- It’s a Smart Charger, meaning it provides a multi-stages charge adapted to the battery type (Gel, AGM, etc). That’s important, because it will keep your house battery healthy and maximize it’s lifespan ($$).
- It’s plug-and-forget. The B2B will automatically activate/deactivate when driving to keep the house battery topped up.
- It’s not cheap, but since it extends the lifespan of the house battery, it can be considered as a long-term investment!
4.2.2- Automatic Charging Relay (ACR)
An ACR parallels (combines) the van & the house batteries during charging (alternator or solar).
- Simple and compact
- The house battery will get whatever charging profile the alternator provides; it works, but it’s not ideal for the house battery health in the long run.
4.3- Shore Power
4.3.1- Battery Charger / Converter
A smart Battery Charger / Converter will:
- Charge the house battery from a 120V source by providing a multi-stages charging profile adapted to the battery type (Gel, AGM, etc).
- Provide power to 12V loads. This means using 12V loads (refrigerator, lights, etc) won’t discharge the battery when the charger/converter is plugged in.
4.3.2- Inverter / Charger
An inverter / Charger is a battery charger AND an inverter combined into one device. It is quite convenient because it simplify the installation (one device instead of two), but it’s more expensive (between 1000$-2000$ for high-quality ones) than installing a separate inverter and a battery charger…
5- System Monitor
A system monitor is not mandatory, but we strongly recommend it. Depending on your model, it will display the house and van battery voltage, amperage coming in/out of the house battery, % battery left, amperage used since last charge, etc, etc. You will learn a lot from the monitor on: 1- the impact of shade on solar (and help you choose the right parking spot) 2- the impact of your load(s). This will help you better manage your energy. A popular option out-there is the Bogart Engineering Trimetric TM-2030; this is what we installed first, but we then upgraded for the Victron BMV-712 because the Bogart is not exactly user friendly to setup and operate and because it looks like it’s 1968…
Here you will find our review about the Victron MPPT SmartSolar Charger, Battery Monitor and VictronConnect App. We also go through the installation, initial setup and operation process. We have a bunch of cool screenshots and things to say about the Victron so go read the article 🙂
6- Battery Bank Sizing
Back on the battery topic. We now understand that if the charge sources were properly chosen and sized, the battery should (normally) get a full charge everyday (by solar and/or driving and/or shore power). So what dictate the size of the battery then? I would say overnight discharge + cloudy days + rough buffer + the price you are willing to pay…
We finally went for a 210Ah AGM battery. In summer, at sunrise, the battery will be 80%-90% capacity depending on what happened the night before (driving late generally means a full charge when we go to bed). At noon, the battery is generally fully charged from solar depending on the weather. For winter, we were able to keep the battery above 50% SOC at all time, but it’s definitely more challenging than in summer.
The concept here is that there are a lot of variables to take account. We went on the safe side by choosing a medium-large battery bank (some people go up to 300-400Ah).
We also considered:
7- Electrical Wire
7.1- Wire Diameter (AWG)
Selecting the correct electrical wire diameter is crucial for the system performance and safety. The maximum current and the voltage drop need to be taken into account to select to appropriate diameter.
7.1.1- Maximum Current (capacity)
For a certain wire diameter, there is a maximum current carrying capacity of a wire. Going over that capacity would create a safety issue (i.e. bigger current requires bigger wire diameter).
7.1.2- Voltage Drop
There is a loss of energy (voltage drop) as current moves through passive elements (wires, terminals, etc) of an electrical system. The wires are a big contributor to the voltage drop and this should be taken into account when designing the electrical system. How? By selecting the appropriate diameter; the bigger the diameter, the smaller the voltage drop. Generally, wire diameter should be selected to provide a maximum of 3% voltage drop for critical loads (panel main feeder, inverter, electronic) and 10% maximum voltage drop for non-critical loads (lightning, fan, etc).
7.1.3- Selecting the correct wire diameter
The inputs are:
- Nominal Circuit Voltage (hint: it’s 12V)
- Average Current (it’s normally written in the owner manual of the load)
- Length of Wire (hint: you need to add the positive AND negative wires! For example, a load located 10 feet away from the battery would require 20 feet length of wire)
- Allowable Voltage Drop % (critical VS non-critical loads, see section 7.1.2)
The outputs are:
- Recommended wire diameter
- Maximum current capacity of the wire (for reference)
Let’s select the correct wire diameter for the Maxxair Fan.
What we know:
- We measured that the fan pulls 2.8 amps at maximum speed (faroutride.com/maxxfan-review/#Specifications).
- The manual recommend a 5 amps fuse.
- The length of the duplex wire from the fuse box to the fan is: 16 feet
We head to circuitwizard.bluesea.com and enter the following inputs:
- Circuit Voltage: It’s always 12V…
- Load Current: For simplicity sake, we use the fuse capacity instead of the average load. By doing so our system will have slightly oversized wires, but it’s actually a good thing: there is less voltage drop and the wires are more robust. (if you decide to use the average current that’s OK, just make sure the wire capacity is greater than the fuse selected)
- Length of Conductor: We measured 16 feet of duplex wire, but for calculation it’s always the positive wire + negative wire that must be used. So 16 feet of positive + 16 feet of negative = 32 feet
- The calculator recommends: AWG 18.
- AWG 18 is capable of taking current up to 20 amps (read the small prints below the Recommended Wire) which is greater than the 5 amps fuse we’re using; we’re safe!
- BUT, AWG 18 wire is really small and fragile. Vibration and sharp edges will damage it in the long run; for this reason anything smaller than AWG 16 is not recommended.
- We could use AWG 16 but, to save cash, we bought a big roll of AWG 14 wire; therefore we will use AWG 14! It’s OK to use bigger wire (but it’s NOT OK to use smaller wire).
Don’t cheap out on electrical wire. We highly recommend to select marine grade wire such as:
7.2- Wire Crimping (connecting wire)
There are many ways to connect wires together. We will go straight to the point here, the best way to do it is crimping. Crimping will deform the connector into the wire and ensure a solid permanent mechanical connection with low resistance. To crimp, you need good tool and good connectors (heat shrink recommended):
Do not use pliers for crimping! Do not use cheap connectors! You will get poor connections that will not last in time and could create safety issues.
7.3- Wire Installation
For safety sake, the wires should not be installed loose and unprotected; as opposed to a house, there is a lot of vibration and movements that will damage the wires in the long run.
The wires should be routed through Split Loom Tubing (make sure to buy several diameters) attached with zip ties:
8- Fuses and Breakers
Fuses and breakers are essential in any electrical system! It will protect the circuit wires and the components against over current and ultimately fire. If you blow a fuse during your system installation (we did a few times), it means that you just avoided a potential failure or fire! Nice!
Each load should be fused according to it’s current maximum normal draw. Consult the owner manual of the load. This is achieve through a fuse box such as:
The fuse will drive the wire diameter selection. For example, if wiring a load that draw 5A and a fuse of 15A is used, you should choose a wire capable of (more than) 15A! This is safety matters.
Breakers are similar to fuses, except that if it blows it is possible to reset it without replacing it. Fuses generally blow faster than breakers and therefore fuses are preferred for sensible electronics. We added a few 40 amp breakers in our system. Why? First, to avoid having to use big electrical wires. Indeed, our fuse block is capable of 100A; even if we know that we will never draw 100A, we need to size our wires for 100A ($$$). By adding 40A breakers, we can size our wires for 40A. We can also turn off portion of the system by switching a breaker off (for example, turn off solar panels to display on our system monitor the draw that the loads are pulling. Or the opposite to display the charge that the solar panels are providing).
Here is a more complete article about this topic: http://www.12voltplanet.co.uk/fuses-guide-uses.html
9.1- 12V Loads
These are all the 12V loads that we installed:
LED Light (Dimmable)
Installation and wiring: faroutride.com/led
We decided to install 12V sockets all over the van instead of USB chargers. Why? Because this is the most universal plug (we can charge everything: phone, laptop, camera, etc.) and it’s not likely to evolve in the future (as opposed to USB standards). We went for a high quality, marine-grade Blue Sea 12V socket (15A capable):
Shurflo Revolution Water Pump, 3 GPM
Novakool R5810 Fridge 12V
Webasto Air Top 2000 STC Gasoline Heater
Propex HS2000 Propane Heater
Sirocco ii Gimbal Fan, 12V
9.2- 120V Loads
The role of the inverter is to convert the voltage from 12V DC to 120V AC. Just remember that there is a loss of around 15% efficiency during the conversion from DC to AC, so it is better to reduce the use of an inverter. For example, get a universal 12V power adapter to power your laptop if possible:
Or instead of charging your phone, cameras, etc., using a 120V charger, use a 12V charger:
Now there are some appliance that must use 120V AC such as microwave, gaming laptop, milk frother, blender, coffee machine, etc. In that case, you will need an inverter. You should size your inverter according to your most demanding appliance; check the owner manual or check online to find out how much Watt an appliance draw. If you can’t find the info, you can use a Kill-a-watt. The Kill A Watt is plugged into the 120V outlet (of your house), then the appliance is plugged into the Kill A Watt and then the consumption will be displayed.
And remember that a microwave rated for 1500W will most likely draw more than 1500W… so get a 2000W inverter.
9.2.2- Modified VS Pure Sine Inverter
There are two types of inverter: modified and pure sine inverter. There is a good explanation here. This is a must-read if you need to choose between the two. Did you read it? Yes? Good, then we all agree that a pure sine inverter is the way to go!
You will find same very cheap inverter on Amazon or ebay; stay away from them if you don’t want to toast your 120V appliances and for safety sake. We like Samlex; they make good quality products and are reasonably priced:
- Samlex 1000W Pure Sine Inverter, Buy on Amazon.
- Samlex 300W, 600W, 1500W or 2000W Pure Sine Inverter, Buy on Amazon (make your selection in the Amazon store).
10- Our Electrical System
Before going any further, we draw a logical diagram and a wiring diagram. We did not want to waste time on that at first, but we are so glad we did it. When doing the actual physical installation of our system in the van, we realized how important it was to prevent messing up. Things will not clarify during the installation… the physical installation is quite overwhelming and referring to the diagram gave us a lot of confidence. When we first turned the switches on, we were not afraid to blow everything up 🙂 To this day, we printed a copy and leave it in the van at all time.
You will find our logical and wiring diagrams “as installed” here: Electrical System 2017. However, we recommend to use the diagrams presented in section 11 below.
11- If we had to start over
We’re very proud to introduce our new Wiring Diagram! What’s wrong we the previous one? Nothing, it passed the test of time and it works exactly as it should! Then why change it? Here’s why:
We realized many people are just replicating it (which we think is great!), so we wanted to make it
- easier to understand (see our new Interactive Diagram AND new tutorial “From Blank Page to Wiring Diagram in 15 Steps”)
- easier to install (more intuitive design and less components to install)
- easier to use (Plug-and-forget, monitoring via Android or iPhone)
- easier to adapt to anyone’s need (many features can be deleted/modified for different needs/budget. See our suggestions.)
It’s the result of the ultimate question: “If you had to start over, what would you change?”. Answer: we deleted some features we never used in the real world and we updated some components because we like to stay up-to-date with the latest technology.
11.2- Wiring Diagram
11.2.1- Interactive Wiring Diagram
11.2.2- High-Resolution Wiring Diagram
Download a high-resolution, printable, pdf file of our wiring diagram. You will get two things:
NAME YOUR PRICE! Yep, you pay whatever you think our help is worth to you. That means you can get both the wiring diagram and the tutorial for 0$(minimum) or for 100,000,000,000$ (recommended) 😉
Name a price of 10$ and up and we’ll send you a free sticker!
11.3- Material List
To replicate the electrical system presented in section 11.2, click on any product in the wiring diagram above, check out our Amazon Wish List (amazon.com/shop/faroutride), or use the table below:
|Lifeline AGM Battery 255Ah – GPL-8DL||255Ah AGM Battery.||1||amzn.to/2qMYxRh|
|Blue Sea Terminal Fuse||150A or 175A or 200A or 250A (see LOADS 120V on wiring diagram)||1||Fuse: amzn.to/2J81TWc
|Blue Sea Battery Switch||This is to isolate the battery from the system. Mandatory! For safety and if you have some work to do on the system.||1||amzn.to/2vry15e|
|Blue Sea Bus Bar||This is to make multiple connections to the battery positive and negative. 250 Amps Max.||2||amzn.to/2qGvMWj|
|Blue Sea Fuse Blocks||This is to connect all the 12V loads to the system with appropriate fuse.||1||amzn.to/2HLQNGU|
|Fuse Assortment||Fuse kit (2A 3A 5A 7.5A 10A 15A 20A 25A 30A 35A).||1||amzn.to/2J5348W|
|Blue Sea 40A Breaker||1||amzn.to/2JU8Knw|
|Victron BMV-712 Smart Battery Monitor with built-in Bluetooth||Note: shunt is included.||1||amzn.to/2J3N0Ez|
|160W Solar Panel||To harvest the sun!||2||amzn.to/2K6VEHl|
|Victron SmartSolar MPPT Solar Charge Controller 100V 30A with built-in Bluetooth||Solar Battery Charger.||1||amzn.to/2J4Z7kK|
|15′ Extension Cable with MC4 Connectors||Solar Panel cables are not long enough to reach the charge controller||1||amzn.to/2Hj4y2Y|
|Right Angle Cable Glands||To route the solar panels wire through the roof.||1||amzn.to/2HesyAt|
|Blue Sea 40A Breaker||To isolate and protect the solar controller. Useful during the system installation and after for reworks.||2||amzn.to/2JU8Knw|
|Sterling 1260 B2B Charger, 12V, 60A||Battery-to-battery charger.||1||amzn.to/2EXvHme|
|Blue Sea 70A Fuse||As per Sterling manual.||2||amzn.to/2HcQIek|
|Blue Sea Fuse Block||To hold the fuse.||2||amzn.to/2J6tQxD|
|Samlex Solar SEC-1250UL Battery Charger 50A||Smart Battery Charger.||1||amzn.to/2vt0FmC|
|Blue Sea 60A Breaker||1||amzn.to/2K02lY9|
|Samlex Solar PST-1500-12 Pure Sine Inverter, 1500W||To convert 12V DC to 120V AC.||1||amzn.to/2JVp6fD|
|Maxxair 6200K Roof Fan||faroutride.com/fan-installation/||1||amzn.to/2qJCbA1|
|LED Ceiling Lights||faroutride.com/led/||2 or 3 pack||amzn.to/2vpyyVs|
|Blue Sea 12V Socket||We installed 12V sockets because it’s a “neutral” standard; it won’t change with time (as opposed to USB standard) and we can charge any device with it. To charge our phones, we use this: amzn.to/2EXgktX||4||amzn.to/2JVPypv|
|Shurflo Revolution Water Pump, 3 GPM||faroutride.com/pressurized-water-system/||1||amzn.to/2J9NqZQ|
|Webasto Air Top 2000 STC Gasoline Heater||faroutride.com/air-heater-installation/||Choose one (Fuel or Propane)||Gasoline Model or Diesel Model|
|Propex HS2000 Propane Heater||faroutride.com/propex-install/||Buy from ebay|
|Novakool R5810 Fridge, 12V only||We recommend a fridge that have a Danfoss compressor. They’re the most efficient.||1||We went for a front-loading Novakool R5810, but some people prefer top-loading.|
|Sirocco ii Gimbal Fan, 12V||A sweet wall fan mounted on a 3D gimbal! faroutride.com/sirocco-fan-review/||1||amzn.to/2HKy7HR|
|Nature’s Head Composting Toilet||There’s an exhaust fan that pulls a tiny amount of current (0.01A).||1||amzn.to/2qJOsEA|
|Note: wires, connectors, etc. varies a lot with each system, so it’s not possible to make an exhaustive list of all the material and quantities…|
|Ancor Marine Grade Duplex Wire||amzn.to/2BS42le|
|Ancor Marine Grade Heat Shrink Terminal Rings||amzn.to/2gGZ3Ju|
|Ancor Marine Grade Heat Shrink Butt Connectors||amzn.to/2J4trfh|
|Ancor Marine Grade Heat Shrink Disconnects (male and female)||amzn.to/2JXwN56|
|Ancor Marine Grade Heat Shrink Adhesive Tubing||amzn.to/2HBYJwS|
PART B: YOUR TURN TO SHINE!
12- Your Electrical System
Enough blabla, you have an electrical system to build! You can use the Logical and Wiring diagrams above (section 11) as a starting point and customize it to your needs/budget. Here are a few modifications you can do:
- Not planning on using shore power? Just delete it from the diagram! You can always add it later, providing you got extra space in your electrical cabinet.
- Not planning on using alternator charging? Yep, delete it from the diagram! (we highly recommend it though)
- You can go for more (or less) solar power, just remember to choose your solar controller accordingly (see section 4.1.2). Just select the appropriate solar controller here: amzn.to/2HdHToU
- Don’t have any 120V load to power? Just delete the inverter (and adjust the terminal fuse capacity accordingly) from the diagram! It can be added later.
- We listed a 1500W inverter, but choose one that suits your need depending on your loads. Remember that a microwave advertised as 1500W will most likely draw more than 1500W, so get a 2000W inverter… Here is a Samlex Pure Sine 1000W (amzn.to/2qIW3UF) or 2000W (amzn.to/2qKRNDh) inverter.
On a budget?
- Battery: We listed a Lifeline battery, but you can get a Renogy for about half the price (amzn.to/2EXz5NH) or check out your local RV store.
- System Monitoring: This can be deleted, you will be able to monitor the battery voltage using your phone via the Victron SmartSolar built-in Bluetooth. You won’t have the % SOC and all the cool stuff though…
- Alternator charging: You can use a Blue Sea ACR (amzn.to/2HPUxK9) instead of the Sterling B2B, as long as you adjust the wire/fuse capacity accordingly as the Blue Sea ACR can charge with much more current than the Sterling B2B!
- Shore Charging: This can be added later.
- An inverter can be added later too, but install the appropriate wire gauge (AWG) from the start to avoid having to re-wire! (according to the inverter size you plan on installing)
- We don’t recommend cheaping out on components (wires, connectors, cheap Chinese charge controller, etc) for safety sake!
Example of customization
As a demonstration purpose here is what your diagram would look like if you decided to delete the Shore & Alternator charging, the inverter and the system monitoring:
13- The Easy Way
Complete Solar Kit
Selecting and matching every single component can be an overwhelming task, but fortunately it is possible to buy high quality complete solar kit. Renogy is an established brand in solar system and has a very good reputation so we don’t hesitate to recommend the kit below. Note that the price is right: it’s similar to what we paid for our DIY electrical system, nice!
Renogy 300W Solar Kit
- 3x 100W Solar Panel (once in Amazon store, you can choose to expend up to 800W solar!)
- 200Ah Battery (note: this is a gel battery and requires venting, see our write-up above)
- 1000W Pure-Sine Inverter (note: it’s a pure-sine, but it’s not a charger. Inverter only.)
- 30A PWM Solar Charger
- Hardware for mounting and electrical connection of the system
Plug and Play
Still overwhelmed by all of this? There is an easy way out! Goal Zero have a line of high-quality products that will get you powered with minimal effort; it’s basically “plug-and-play”… just expect to pay the PREMIUM price for a PREMIUM product! They have an outstanding reputation in term of quality and customer service, so you can buy with confidence.
Here is a 400Wh battery (33Ah at 12V) station that includes 300W pure-sine inverter, 2 USB ports, 1 12V ports and 40W foldable solar panels. It’s not a lot of power, but it’s perfect to power a laptop and charge phones/cameras:
And this is a 1250Wh battery (100Ah at 12V) station that includes 1200W pure-sine inverter, 4 USB ports, 2 12V ports and 100W solar panels:
The design of the electrical system is not an easy task; it takes time. Make sure to clearly define your own requirements and design your system accordingly!
There is a lot more to what we covered here, but we hope this will get you started!
Did we missed anything??
ON SECOND THOUGHT…
October 2017 Update:
(The following text is extracted from faroutride.com/first-month/)
No surprises here, it’s going as planned. The battery state-of-charge (SOC) normally doesn’t get below 80% and is getting charged almost exclusively by our solar panels, except when there are a few days of bad weather then we top up the battery via the alternator. As we mentioned a few times, we would install a Sterling Battery-to-Battery charger (http://amzn.to/2xmHZ6W) if we had to do it over (so we don’t have to think of charging the battery from the alternator, it’s all automatic with the Sterling charger). Winter will be the real test for our electrical system, so more to come…
March 2018 Update:
We just went through our first (cold) winter as full-timer and we never went out of energy! To learn more about the challenges we faced and how we mitigated them, read our Winter Vanlife article here: faroutride.com/winter-vanlife
June 2018 Update:
We just upgraded from the Bogart Engineering PWM to Victron SmartSolar MPPT and we immediately noticed more current coming in (24A for the Victron compared to 16A for the Bogart), nice. The SmartPhone app is really cool too, we like seeing historical data about our system performance 🙂
(Very) Related Article:
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Hello! We’re Isabelle and Antoine 🙂 In 2017 we sold our house (and everything in it), quit our engineering careers and moved into our self built campervan. We’ve been on the road since then and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure; we’re chasing our dreams and hopefully it inspires others to do the same!