Electrical & Solar

Camper van solar panels and electrical systems can frequently turn people off since they appear to be highly high-tech. In truth, it’s simpler than you think, may save you a lot of money, and can make your life much easier when driving.

Contents Table

by an explorer

1. How much solar energy do I require for my van?
The first step is to determine how many watts of solar power you require for your camper van. This video explains the calculations that must be performed in order to provide the appropriate amount of electricity for your van conversion.

 

2. Rigid Solar Panels vs. Flexible Solar Panels
The Benefits of Rigid Solar Panels for a Van
They allow for a solar panel mount that can be adjusted.
They dissipate heat more effectively because they are one inch off the roof, allowing air to flow underneath and cool the solar panels.
Flexible solar panels are slightly more powerful.
When put on a flat roof, some flexible solar panels have been discovered to pool water, causing debris to settle and causing damage.
Flexible solar panels are less durable. Flexible solar panels might be scratched if something falls on them. Flexible solar panels are a dangerous alternative if you frequently stay in a campground with a lot of trees.
Recommended:
Renogy Complete Solar Panel Kit 200 Watts 12 Volt

Ryobi Lithium-Ion 18-Volt ONE+ Cordless Drill

Kit for Impact Driving

The Benefits of Flexible Solar Panels for a Van
They are less bulky and thus more visually pleasing.
They are more discrete, so no one will suspect you are living in your van.
Weight reduction.
Bending up to 30 degrees allows for greater solar exposure.
You can avoid drilling holes in your roof by using double-sided mounting tape, Velcro, or adhesive like Dicor lap sealant.
Water leakage can also be increased by drilling holes.

We couldn’t discover any flexible solar panel kits, so you’ll have to buy the components separately…

ALLPOWERS Flexible Solar Panel 100 Watts 18 Volts and 12 Volts are required.

Renogy Battery 12V 200Ah is a pure gel deep cycle battery. Renogy batteries are regarded for being extremely dependable, safe, and long-lasting, which is why we recommend them.

BESTEK 1000W Power Inverter – This is one of the most basic and inexpensive inverters available, and it will enough for the majority of van residents. In step 5, we go through what inverters are used for and how to install them.

ALLPOWERS 20A Solar Charger Controller – The charge controller limits the amount of electricity drawn from the batteries. It prevents overcharging, which can harm battery performance and raise safety concerns.

ALLPOWERS 20-foot, 10-gauge solar adaptor cable with MC4 female and male connections for connecting the solar panel to the charger controller.

ALLPOWERS MC4 Male and Female Cable Connectors are used to connect solar panels in series. Watch the video at the bottom of the page to see whether you should connect your solar panels in series or parallel.

Male and female ALLPOWERS Branch Connectors are used to connect your solar panels in parallel.

Renogy 16FT 12 AWG Wire connects your charge controller to your battery.

ALLPOWERS MC4 Connector Assembly Tool – Extremely useful for assembling bespoke Mc4 wires. For severing connections that have already been joined together.

VELCRO Extreme Outdoor – Using Velcro rather than a permanent glue allows you to position your solar panel to face the sun.

Solar panels are often mounted on the roof of a vehicle, but this video demonstrates a different approach. Flexible solar panels may be readily positioned so that they constantly face the sun, as seen in this video:

 

3. Solar Panel Connection – Series vs Parallel Solar Panel Tips
Cool temperatures increase the efficiency of solar panels.
When choosing solar panels, it is best if all of them are the same size and type. This can present issues if they offer different quantities of power or if one is older than the other.
Even the smallest amount of shade or shadow can reduce a solar panel’s effectiveness. If a roof hatch casts shade over just a few inches of your solar panel, your power production can drop significantly.

4. Run wiring from the outside of the van to the inside.

Ryobi 18-Volt ONE+ Lithium-Ion Cordless Drill – Drill a hole through the roof or side of your vehicle with a drill bit to feed the wiring through.

Drill Bit Set with Titanium Coating from Ryobi

Heat Shrink Black Tubing – Insert the heat shrink tubing through the hole in your van to protect the wires from the sharp edges of the hole.

Electrical Tape – To close the hole, use both electrical tape and calk.

Acrylic Latex Caulk for All Purposes

 

5. DC to AC conversion Wiring & Van Power Inverter
In this segment, our friends Crystal and Ben (@earthisourfavoriteplanet) will walk you through their electrical setup. Ben, an electrical engineer, divides things down into manageable chunks.

We are harvesting solar energy and storing it in 12 volt DC batteries. Many items, including lights, refrigerators, fans, and USB ports, may run on DC power. To use wall outlets, we must convert our power from DC to AC. Hold on tight while I lead you through the procedure and explain how it works.

 

Selecting an Inverter
The first step is to determine which size inverter is best for you. We chose a 1000 watt BESTEK inverter because of its affordable cost and simple functionality, but you may require a different size depending on what you wish to power. It is critical to appropriately size your inverter because an inverter cannot power your gadgets above the wattage threshold.

1000W BESTEK Power Inverter
So, what will you be plugging into your outlets? Your appliances should mention how many watts they consume, so check the wattage for all of them and tally up the amount that you could be consuming at the same time. Choose your inverter based on the greatest current you can draw at one time. We chose a 1000W inverter, for example, because all we plug in is a coffee grinder and computer chargers. Don’t get an inverter that is too powerful because your inverter need power to operate, thus a powerful inverter will consume more power from the solar panel than necessary. Also, if you charge items that consume 800 watts but your inverter only provides 500 watts, you may blow a fuse.

Choose your design and the position of your inverter.
You have one more decision to make once you’ve chosen your inverter and are ready to hook it up. Do you want to use the inverter’s outlets (option 1) or install a proper wall outlet (option 2)?

Option 1: If you set the inverter in a handy location, your wiring will be much easier. You may turn the inverter on and off from the box and plug in your appliances. You just need to go through step 5 if you go this method.

Option 2: We chose option 2 and installed true wall outlets in the wall to conceal our inverter near our batteries. Even if nothing is plugged into the wall, the inverter draws a little amount of current when it is turned on.

 

So this brings us to the next decision; you can just say “ahh what’s a little bit of power” and hide your inverter away and leave it on all the time, you can keep the inverter in a convenient place so you can use the power switch on the device itself, or you can choose to buy an inverter that comes with a wall switch.

Inverter with a Wall Switch

Wiring
Let’s wire things up now that you have a plan! We begin with 12 volt DC power from the battery, which is approximately ten times the current output of the inverter (110 volts AC). To accommodate this high current, a thick line from the battery to the inverter is required (we chose a 4 gauge wire). You also want to keep the wire as short as possible, which is why we hid the inverter directly next to the batteries under the bed. Longer distances between the battery and the inverter, as well as higher power requirements, would necessitate a wider wire gauge.

Step 1: Cut two 4 gauge wires to the desired length. On either side of the wire, remove roughly an inch of the encasing to expose the wires.

Step 2: Using a hammer crimp tool, attach a crimp ring termination to each side of your 4 gauge wires.

 

Ring Terminals with Crimps

Wire gauge 4

Tool for Hammer Crimping

Step 3 Use a bolt (we used a wing nut) to secure the crimp ring terminal to the positive battery terminal.

Step 4 Connect the inverter to the opposite end of the wire.

Step 5
Steps 3 and 4 should be repeated for the ground wire. Congratulations if you intend to plug directly into your inverter! You’re finished! Keep reading if you’re a high achiever.

 

We recommend utilizing 12 gauge Romex wire, which is what is used in homes, for the cables coming out of the inverter with 120 volts AC. The Romex wire is one yellow wire with many wires buried inside, so you will still have a positive and negative wire inside the yellow casing even though you will only be working with one wire.

Romex 12 Gauge Wire

You may be scratching your head right now because there is no obvious way to connect the Romex to the inverter; you are correct. We need to perform some wizardry so that one side of the Romex wire has a plug. We cut an old extension cord and connected the Romex to the power plug – if that makes your eyes water, you could just buy garbage disposal wire instead.

Wire for Garbage Disposal

Connect the Romex and garbage disposal wires in Step 6. We must ensure that the cables are connected positively to positively and negatively to negatively, which is easier said than done. Plug in the garbage disposal wire and, using a multimeter, touch each wire (to complete the circuit); if the voltage reads positive, the positive (red) wire is touching the positive wire; if it reads negative, the negative wire is touching the negative wire. A white and black wire should protrude from the Romex wire, with the black being positive and the white being negative. Now that the positive and negative wires have been matched, connect them with twist quick connections.

 

Multimeter

Quick Connects with a Twist

Step 7 *IMPORTANT* The joint where you connected the wires in step 6 must be placed in an electrical junction box so that if the connection loosens, there is no live wire in your vehicle.

Junction Box (Electrical)

Step 8 Plug the opposite end of the Romex into a wall outlet! (You should be able to find this on YouTube.)

Congratulations! You’ve successfully connected your inverter! You’re finished if you opt to leave the inverter on or if you’ve placed the inverter in a convenient position. If you want a beautiful wall switch to turn on and off your inverter, you should have purchased a power inverter with a remote switch. The inverter should include instructions for connecting it!

Sixth. Van Lights
The lighting provides atmosphere, sets the tone, and allows you to function when it is dark outside. Needless to say, it’s critical, and fortunately, it’s not that difficult! We’ll tell you everything you need to know if you stick with us.

Step 1: Connect the solar panels to the battery – After you’ve finished insulting your van (if you so desire), it’s time to decide where you want your light switches, where you want your lights, and where you’ll keep your batteries. Run your wires once you’ve figured it out! Simply begin the wire at the battery (allow for extra length), run it to where the switch will reside (taping it to the wall along the way), and then to where each light will be located.

Step 2: Run wires – We decided to do two separate light switches so that we could have kitchen and house lights. We highly recommend the kitchen lights, which are adhesive string lights. We used inset LED lights for our home lights; we made a circle for our lights with a hole saw and simply inserted them. We connected the light to the circuit as we installed each wood plank on the ceiling.

You will require the following items:

Wire 12 Gauge

Wire 4 Gauge

Sticky LED Light Strip

LED recessed lighting

Step 3: Connect your lights to the circuit – Using wire cutters, cut your wires and strip them for about 6 inches, exposing the wire itself. Then, twist all of the power wires (red) together and attach them with a twist crimp connection. Rep for the black ground wires. We used the same cable to connect all of our ceiling lights in parallel (all light power wires connected to 12V power wire, all light ground wires connected to one ground wire).

You will need: Crimp Connections

Stripper for wires

4 Gauge Crimp Ring Terminals

Ring Terminal Crimping (10 Gauge)

Step 4: Connect the switches – Connect a light switch to the fuse box/battery and the lights. You can use different switches for different zones – we wired all of our ceiling lights to a single dimmer (worth it) and string lights under the kitchen cabinets to a separate switch. The procedure is the same as in step 3, except that the wires are cut and stripped before being connected with twist connections.

You will require the following items: light switches

Dimmer for LED Lighting

Fusible Link

Fuses

Step 5: Connecting to the Battery – Run wires from the switches to the fuse box. Place appropriate fuses (A = W / V, therefore we used a 3A fuse for our six 3W lights 6 * 3W = 18W / 12V = 1.5A) and connect the fuse box to the positive battery wire. All of the ground wires should be connected to a common bus bar and then to the negative battery terminal.

You will require the following items: Bus Bar

Connectors for electricity

Lighting Suggestions
Choose warm lighting! They make your vehicle feel more cozy, especially if you have exposed metal inside.
Make the cables longer than you think you’ll need while running them! It’s simple to cut them down, but it’s more difficult to solder extra wire on…
Maintain a 12-volt system.
MARK YOUR WIRES! Put a strip of painters tape on each wire and write what it is for on both ends of the wire.
Dimmers are simple to install and provide you with a lot more lighting options!