We moved the passenger seats towards the back of the van, and added l-track to hold down an additional floor layer on top of the factory floor. That meant several big changes to the factory wood floor insert.
We need a way to recharge the battery from “shore power.” That means mains outlets attached to the house. The easiest way is to run an extension cord through an open door, but that’s not very elegant, secure, or warm.
We’ll be putting removable cabinets in the front of the van. We knew pretty much what size they needed to be in order to hold the items we want to carry, but we didn’t know what that meant for maneuverability in the living area of the van.
So, I resorted to a tool I use in my day job – paper prototyping. We’d already done this to work out the best configuration for the electrical components in the garage area of the van. Now, we just needed bigger cardboard boxes and more tape in order to make real-size mock-ups of the cabinets. Continue reading “Mocking up cabinet locations”
Logistic track (also called l-track or airline track) is an extruded aluminum strip that has holes drilled through it at 1″ intervals, and an inverted “T” cross-section cut out through its length. Connectors slide in through the holes and then lock in place with a spring or a bolt. That makes it easy to configure to support any load you want to carry. Continue reading “Logistic Track – the super-connector”
It’s magic! You can take 12 volts DC from a battery and turn it into 120 volts AC ready to power all your devices. In fact, the more you know about how electricity works, the more impressive that magic becomes.
The magic all happens in a device called an inverter. They come in different sizes – from something that might just power a small stereo all the way up to something that can run a whole house worth of devices.
If the battery is the heart of the van, then the electrical cables are its circulatory system. They take power from the battery to where it’s needed, either at 12 volts or via the inverter, which converts 12 volts DC to 120 volts AC to run regular household appliances. Continue reading “Running electrical cables”
Without the battery, the van won’t have light, heat, cooking facilities, a water pump, or any of the other things that turn it into a useful place to hang out.
We chose to use a Lithium Ferric Phosphate (LiFePO4) battery. Lithium batteries can take a charge much faster than lead-acid batteries. They also don’t mind being left in a state of partial discharge, and they can be discharged to around 20% capacity without impacting their service life. Continue reading “The battery is the heart of the van”
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.
It might look like a mess, but the cardboard boxes in the picture above helped me to work out the design of the battery box and electrical area in the back of the van.
I cut cardboard boxes to size for each of the main components, and also traced the shape of the smaller components like switches, gauges and connectors. Then, I tried different placements in the van. Continue reading “Will it fit? Will it work? Cardboard boxes to the rescue!”
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.