Living off-grid can be a life-changing experience, but it also requires a lot of preparation and planning. One of the most important aspects of off-grid living is having a reliable electrical system to power your appliances and devices. When we build our vans, we always incorporate three different ways to charge the system:
1. Solar Panels
2. Alternator Charging
3. Shore Power Charging
One of the most popular ways to charge your van's electrical system is to use solar panels. They are environmentally friendly and cost-effective in the long run and super easy to install on the roof of your van. Utilizing a solar charge controller, energy from the sun will be converted to charge up your system's batteries. Just make sure you're parked in an area to optimize your sun exposure. Portable solar panels are also available, but we find that ones permanently mounted on your roof give you the best bang for your buck.
Tips for Using Solar Panels
- Make sure to purchase high-quality solar panels that are rated for off-grid living.
- Install the solar panels on the roof of your van to maximize their exposure to sunlight.
- Purchase a charge controller and battery bank that are compatible with your solar panels and electrical system.
- Monitor your battery bank to ensure that it is being charged properly and isn't being overcharged.
The alternator of your van's engine can also be used to charge your off-shore electrical system. Every time you drive, utilizing a DC to DC charger, your vehicle will be pumping power into your battery system to top it up. This is a great option for people that drive often or at least every day. It's also a great option to give yourself a backup in case you experience periods of bad weather when your solar panels might not be able to charge your batteries. Since part of the charging system is tapping into your vehicle's alternator, it's also a really cost-efficient way to charge your system.
Tips for Using Your Van's Alternator
- Make sure that your electrical system is properly wired and that the alternator is connected to the battery bank.
- Only use the alternator to charge your off-grid electrical system if you plan to drive your van regularly. The alternator is designed to charge the van's battery while driving, and using it to charge your off-grid system could drain the van's battery and leave you stranded.
- Consider installing a battery isolator, which will prevent the alternator from draining the van's battery while charging your off-grid system.
Shore power is a term used to describe the electrical power that is supplied to a vehicle from an external source. In the case of a camper van, shore power is typically supplied from a campground, RV park, or extension cord from a home, and charges your off-grid batteries directly. Luckily installing a shore power inlet on the side of your van isn't too difficult. Once it's installed, depending on the type of inlet you purchased, you can utilize your Inverter/Charger or a trickle charger to pump power right into your batteries. This is a great option for people that know they will be parked at houses or campgrounds frequently, or want a way to charge their batteries at home before leaving for a big trip.
Tips for Using Shore Power
- Make sure to use a shore power cord that is rated for your camper van's electrical system. This means the size of your battery bank as well as the type (Lithium versus AGM).
- Before connecting your shore power cord, make sure that the power source is turned off.
- If you plan to use shore power for an extended period, make sure to monitor your van's batteries and charging system to ensure that they are functioning properly.
Having a reliable electrical system is essential, and your charging methods play a significant role in it. There are several ways to charge your off-shore electrical system while living in a van, and it can't hurt to have more than one! There's nothing worse than being stranded without the ability to turn on your lights, charge your phone, run your heater, or use your stove. We've got a few recommendations for preparing for those scenarios as well, but that's for another blog post. What alternative charging methods have you utilized in your off-grid setup?