Step 6 - Electrical System

The next step is your electrical set-up. First of all, and most importantly, depending on how complex you want to make your set-up, the best thing for you might be to ask help from a professional. Electrical is something you do not want to get wrong! However, if you do not want some crazy extensive set-up or you have the knowledge, it does not have to be hard. I will help you out with the basics, but definitely ask your local store experts for advice as well. 

Tip: a good store in the Netherlands is destroomwinkel.nl. They can help you with the different components and if you buy your whole system with them you get all the products you need as well as a diagram of the system, so you know how to connect with each component. Plus they give you a discount!

  • Put a bit of paper on all the places in your van where you need electiricy to get a clear overview. After that you can pull the wires to those places.

You start with the electricity because you want all the cables to beautifully disappear behind your wall. Moreover, some products might take a while to ship. Thus, it is better to order these at the beginning and meanwhile you can go on with the other steps on this guide.

Energy usage

Create a table with all the appliances and electrical components you will want to use and calculate how much energy this will cost in a day.

For example:

Product

Watt

Volt

Consumption per Day

fridge

11 W 

12 V

24 h

water pump

15 W

12 V

0,5 h

induction

2000 W

230 V

0,5 h

LED lights (main) 4x

8 W

12 V

3 h

blender

200 W230 V

0,1 h

total

AGM vs Lithium batteries

The two main batteries that people buy for their conversion are AGM/gel batteries or lithium batteries. So, what are the pros and cons:

  1. Price
    • AGM/gel batteries are cheaper. So, if you are on a budget this might be the best option for you.
  2. Extreme temperatures
    • AGM/gel batteries are better at withstanding the cold temperatures. So if you are planning to go to the colder climates to go skiing or you live in a typically colder environment. These might be better for you.
    • However, you can still get the lithium, even when going to colder climates by creating some sort of set up that will keep your batteries from getting too cold.
  3. Efficient
    • Lithium batteries are a bit more expensive but they are also more efficient and less stressful. You should not let your AGM batteries get lower than 50%, which is 95% for lithium. You can be less stressful about ruining your batteries.
    • If you have many appliances that you want to charge with your electricity than lithium might also be your best option. Especially if you are going with induction cooktop.
  4. Lifespan
    • Lithium has more cycles, therefore having a longer lifespan than AGM.
  5. Weight
    • Weight is an important key point to look out for when doing your conversion. Lithium is a lot lighter than AGM.

If you have many appliances that you want to charge with your electricity than lithium might also be your best option. Especially if you are going with induction cooktop

In my opinion lithium is the best option if you are traveling for longer periods. It will cost you more at the start, but it will give you less stress and ensure a better travel experience. 

Charging

There are 3 most used ways to charge your battery: solar, (inverter) charger, and while driving. It is recommended that you have at least two ways to charge your batteries. (Inverter) charger is useful if you are planning on mostly going to camping spots where you can connect it to the electricity. Charging while driving is very useful as well, just know that it is not a lot.

Solar panels + charge controller

Solar panels are very useful. They are an easy and sustainable way to generate and use energy. How many W your solar panels need to be, will depend on how much energy you think you are going to use. It also depends on which places you will travel to and is it summer or winter, is it a clear sky or cloudy day. For example, in the Netherlands in the summer months, you will get around 4 hours of “perfect” sun.

There is a wide variety of solar panels. Different components that provide efficiency and key terms to look out for:

  • PERC-technology: this uses mono crystalline cells, which provides for more energy form the same solar cells.
  • Half cell technology: reduces yield loss which results in less resistance and thus work more efficiently.
  • Mono crystalline: even structure which creates a more efficient system.

Moreover, with your van, most of the time, you won’t get the perfect situation. You might have to park near a tree or house which creates a shade on your solar panels. Therefore, it is important to buy solar panels that still work efficiently even when a part of your solar panel receives no sun.

What you need to install the solar panels:

  • Solar panels (obviously)
  • Spoiler set
  • Cable set (most of the time you receive this with the solar panels)
  • Water proof casing for you cables
  • Glue
  • You don’t need screws!

For the dutchies: de camperwebsite, NKC, is useful!

You will also need a charge controller that will accumulate the energy from your solar panels and stores it in your batteries. You need this element because the energy from the sun differs throughout the day, so it controls the swings. Otherwise your battery might get irreparably damaged.

Inverter + Charger

An inverter inverts your 12 V from your solar panels to 230 V. 230 is the V that is mostly used for your house appliances. If you only want to use your inverter for small appliances, a 500 W might me enough. If you want to use heavier appliances or use them at the same time, a 1000 W or even a 2000 W might be more useful. It all depends on your usage.

  • An inverter itself also costs energy. Thus, is you have a high W inverter, you have to make sure your battery can handle this.
  • You can also buy an inverters and charger in one. This way you can charge your batteries from a wall output as well as use it as an inverter. Saves you some money and is easier to install than two separate components. 

Charging while driving

The easiest way to charge your batteries is while driving. You need to connect your car battery to your leisure battery. Which component to use depens on  your battery and van model.

  • If you have AGM/gel you can use a cyrix
  • If you have an older model you can use a cyrix
  • If you have lithium batteries you needa dc dc inverter.
I got the dc/dc inverter that destroomwinkel created. They specialize in this product. It is more expensive than victron, however they say it is more efficient. There offer 3 options, 25, 50, or 100, meaning 1 hour of driving creates 25A. I got the 50 because I don’t have solar right now so I had a little bit more to spend for this component. Plus I will probably be driving every other day, but I am not planning on driving for a long period. And it leaves me less stressed about having enough energy.

Extra

  • Cables
    • Buy good quality and pay attention to the width! Otherwise it can become dangerous very quickly. 
    • Isolated wires are safer.
  • Energy battery monitor