There’s a physical constraint to how much solar energy you can gather from your van. We thought we had it pretty much maxed out until we came across this Advanced-RV build that added even more panels. Continue reading “How to size a solar system for your van”
We didn’t want to always be fussing with multiple switches on the electrical system. The goal was to make it “like a laptop.” In other words, you just use it. If the state of charge gets below around 40%, make sure you park it in the sun to let the solar panels recharge or plug it in to a wall outlet.
How much battery power you need depends on the number of things you want to power, and how often you need to use them. It’s pretty easy to calculate the load you’ll put on the battery, and from that how much power storage you’ll need.
To “prettify” our panels and cut down on wind drag and noise, we added some ABS plastic sheets where the panels overhang the edge of the van. Continue reading “Solar panel wind fairing”
We used a piece of leftover aluminum flashing to make a fairing for the front of the roof rack. The van is now much quieter and may be more fuel efficient.
We decided to install electrical components that would talk to each other as a system, so that we can control everything from one location rather than crawling around in the back of the van.
Victron Energy make a series of products that are sturdy, well engineered, and have been proven in home and marine installations for several years. They are a Dutch company but they sell worldwide. Continue reading “Victron Energy electrical system”
The almost 800 Watts of solar panels on the van did a great job charging the battery on our recent trip. The charger took a little bit of custom configuration, but the menus were easy enough to work with and now everything works well.
I started off with the default charge controller settings for a Lithium battery, but once the battery got close to full, the charger made the battery management system upset. The BMS wanted 13.5 volts float charge, the charger was producing 13.8. Not enough to hurt the battery in the short term, but something that I needed to take care of. If nothing else, I wanted to stop the BMS light from coming on!
Your solar panel doesn’t produce a steady voltage or current, so it’s not a good idea to hook it straight to your devices or battery. Our panels, for instance, can produce 38 volts or more. That would fry any regular 12v equipment.
Luckily, solar controllers are designed to take the varying voltage and current and turn it into a steady output. There are two main types of controller – MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) and PWM (Pulse Width Modulating). Victron has a nice technical document explaining the differences between MPPT and PWM (PDF). It boils down to this: MPPT technology will get more power out of your panels, and is useful with more types of panel, but costs a little bit more up front.
Most solar panels are designed to sit on the roof of a house, not to be driving down the road at 70 miles per hour. The panels themselves can take much higher wind speeds, but it’s all in how you mount them to the roof.
Monocrystalline, Polycrystalline, flexible, rigid, wattages, voltages – there are a lot of variables when you are choosing a solar array.