Updated: Feb 17, 2020
This post was written by Sam Reiser, Owner and Founder of Just Roaming Conversions. With training by Victron Energy for off grid electrical systems, Sam gives advice for what he would consider the most important, yet most undervalued part of a build out.
The last thing that you want to worry about when you’re adventuring is your power system. For some, this is what they get excited about but, if you’re the majority, it’s not. Why ruin the romantic vision of riding off in your van by talking about electrical system design… because the real bummer is riding off on the trip of your lifetime and not being able to power anything.
My name is Sam, and just like many of you reading this I wanted to live the nomadic lifestyle. Travelling across the country in my adventure rig meeting people, seeing things and not thinking about electrical systems. But, before I designed my rig, which of course consisted of hours upon hours on Pinterest and Instagram, I also looked through hundreds of pages of electrical, plumbing and propane designs. I did this to try and understand the intricacies of these systems better. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to have been invited by Victron Energy to their training sessions and solidify the knowledge I acquired through this mundane research process.
The systems are complicated, no matter the size that you plan to install. If you are anything like me when I first started, the mention of any renewable energy or off grid capability kicked your trendy, millennial, environmentalist brain into gear, thinking - THIS IS A MUST. You enter this thought process without knowing anything about solar. Let alone panel efficiency in the heat or cold, the quality of your charge controller, the difference in discharge efficiency between lithium or lead batteries, the voltage drop caused by resistance in connections and the list goes on. All you think is "wow, the sun gives me energy and to do this I'm going to get a solar package from company a, b or c". This is a mistake.
This leads me to my main point. Before you hit the road, in fact, before you do anything on your build regardless of whether its a DIY project or you hired a company, make sure either you or they seriously know what they are doing. I have seen it too many times where contractor van builders come in with a background in housing and mess this up. Their finish work is amazing but they try and power an induction stove, convection oven, full DC system, AC fridge and more with 100ah of lead batteries and an undersized inverter! When you are asking your builders about off grid solutions they should be able to take you through a basic design process and answer all of your questions or at least be open about not knowing something. It’s better to get an honest contractor than an overconfident one.
After travelling the country for several years I founded my own conversion company, Just Roaming Conversions. By far the topic that we get asked the most is about electrical. Which leads me to my second point - well, it isn’t really a point but more of an incredibly simplified process you should follow surrounding system design... if someone does it another way I would be wary of their expertise.
To design a system you must always start with the question, what do you want to power?
You will then complete a power audit to figure out accurately how much power you will use. This will give you the numbers to pick your battery bank, inverter size, overcurrent protection, etc.
After knowing your battery bank size, you need to choose a way to charge it. This can be from a variety of sources such as solar, shore power, generator, your alternator, wind power and more.
Once you pick your source, you will then pick a variety of components that will allow this to happen and size them accordingly. For example - a solar system will need a charge controller and panels. All of these components need to be sized correctly to allow longevity in your system and to ensure that your system runs safely.
Every step of this has multiple levels of complexity, well beyond the basics. Once again, my word of advice is to seek out an expert to talk you through each step if you aren’t 100% confident in this area. It is worth spending money on a consultation rather than spending thousands on components that may or may not work. At the very least you will pick up some tips and tricks to make the install easier and faster.
I hope this helps and I hope to see you out on the road!
- Sam Reiser @Bus.Roaming @JustRoamingConversions
Just Roaming Conversions has generously offered 10% off consultations, system design and install! Just fill out the contact form HERE and use the code WTRF10 in the "How did you find us?" box.