Trying to plan your own van conversion electrical and solar components system? Keep reading to learn how we’re powering our entire off-grid van (including an AC unit!).
If you’ve been around a while you know we are some of AM Solar’s biggest fans. For our first van’s solar and electrical needs we consulted with the their team and purchased all of our components through them. This time around we are using them again and they’ve set us up with a seriously awesome system.
We do want to be fully transparent with you all and say that we have partnered with AM Solar for this new van build. That being said, the last year and a half we have endorsed and sent dozens of van lifers their way without any incentive or pay. We’re truly thankful for their help and the quality components they provide along with their top notch customer service which is why we’re so comfortable partnering with them on this new van build. We recently wrote more about our experience with AM Solar HERE if you would like to read more. For more information regarding our affiliate and sponsorship partners you can read more HERE.
Alright, back to our new van conversion solar system…
In contrast to our first van, our new van is going to be fully electric with the exception of our diesel heater and we’re going to be running an AC unit this time around! We can’t wait for the freedom and flexibility this new setup is going to afford us on the road, but with the freedom of being fully electric comes the need for a lot of batteries and high quality components.
On our first van build we were on a tighter budget and worked off the bare minimum of batteries and solar panels. While that system worked great and allowed us to go off grid comfortably for 3+ days, this time around we have a little bit larger of a budget and thanks to the help of our friends over at AM Solar, Zamp, Battle Born, Victron, and MicroAir we’ve been able to invest a bit more in higher quality components.
It should be noted though that many of the components used in this new van are the exact same components we used in our first van. Just because we decided to invest more in this new system doesn’t mean we’re ditching all of our old system! Our last system ran like a top and we wanted to use many of the same quality brands that we did last time. If you want to take a look back at our first van’s system you can watch our solar breakdown video HERE.
Overview of Our Van Conversion Solar Set Up
Let’s start by comparing our first van’s solar set up to our new van’s solar set up.
Our First Van’s Solar Set Up
- 200 watts of solar panels
- 3000 va inverter charger
- 320 amp hours lithium ion batteries
- 3 ways to charge our batteries: shoreline, alternator, and solar
Our NEW Van’s Solar Set Up
- 300 watts of solar
- 3000 va charger
- 500 amp hours lithium ion batteries (with the option to expand to 800 ah)
- 3 ways to charge our batteries: shoreline, alternator, and solar
Notice our new van is going to be set up relatively similar but with more batteries and more solar panels. While the biggest differences in the system are the batteries and solar panels, there are a few other differences, specifically in regards to the quality of components and charge capacity from the alternator so keep reading….
Our Van Conversion Solar Components
The best way to break it down would be to divide up our system into a few different sections. If you’re like the 2018 version of me, what you’re about to read will be a lot of words that don’t make sense. If you’d like to read a bit more about understanding van conversion solar systems you can check out our blog post HERE.
Alright, let’s get going….
In our new van we are using a 30A Victron Orion to keep the charge rate within the Mercedes warranty guidelines. This is a big change from our last system where we might have gotten up to 180A of charge while driving. We were completely unaware of this part of our Mercedes warranty until last week which is why we’re changing it up in this van. Mercedes never even blinked an eye at our van when it came to the warranty, but we’re playing it safe this time around and going with the 30A option for now. If we want to switch it up to the 180A option one day when the warranty expires at 100,000 miles we can (and probably will).
With a lower-current alternator charger, it’s a good idea to have a strong solar charging system which is why we’re going with higher quality solar panels this time and adding an additional 100 watts.
This time around we’re going with Zamp solar panels for a few different reasons: they’re American made (from one of our favorite cities, Bend Oregon!) low-profile, all black panels. According to AM Solar “these are the best mobile panels on the market.”
Our system will consist of (3) of their 100 watt Obsidian solar panel which will be mounted on our roof. It might sound ridiculous, but I didn’t know a solar panel could actually be pretty until we opened the box when they arrived on our doorstep. These panels just look high quality, top notch and we can’t wait to put them to the test!
Inverter/Charger Components and Accessories
In this van we’re going to be using the exact same inverter/charger as we had in our first van. We loved the quality of our Victron components and we’ll be incorporating a few of their products in our van again.
Our exact inverter/charger is the Victron Multiplus 3000. This component is compact and capable of running an air conditioner along with just about anything else our little electric van needs. According to AM Solar this is their best selling inverter due to its quality and versatility.
The Victron Multiplus inverter/charge combine an inverter and a charger in one unit and also offer PowerAssist, which means that they can combine shore power with battery power when necessary. AM Solar’s kits come with everything you need, from the shore power cord to an AC outlet which saves a ton of time and trips to the hardware store.
Our friends at MicroAir sent us this really handy device that will allow us to run our AC unit off our house battery bank. When you start up an AC unit there’s a huge pull/surge on the battery bank. This device makes the start-up surge of an air conditioner manageable for a Multiplus 3000 inverter making it an essential part of our system. Unless you’re planning on adding an AC unit to your van or RV you won’t need this component.
This is the latest monitor system from Victron and let me just say it’s fancy! It gives complete system monitoring, data logging, and even allows remote access if we were to need our friends at AM Solar to check out your system for troubleshooting. How cool is that?! While we don’t anticipate having issues, this feature might very well come in handy one day, not to mention the design of the monitor is super sleek and cool looking.
This provides backup protection to the Battle Born internal BMS. The kit uses a Victron Battery Protect to disconnect DC loads if the batteries get too low. It also includes a convenient DC fuse block. AM Solar provides different options for DC distribution based on what setup/other components you have. To view their different DC distribution kits, visit their website HERE.
Switching from Victron batteries to Battle Born Batteries will be the biggest change in our electrical system in our new van. This switch was per the recommendation of AM Solar which is why we felt confident taking the plunge to something new. Let’s start by saying that our Victron batteries never gave us any trouble. In fact, they worked really well for us and we had no intention of changing until AM Solar mentioned the upgraded technology Battle Born’s batteries would bring to our system.
In short, because we’re boosting our power in this system, Battle Born Batteries are the way to go since there is no limit in how many batteries you can connect in parallel. They also offer a 10-year full replacement warranty for their batteries. Battle Born Batteries have a built-in BMS, which is a huge advantage and comes standard on all models. The chemistry in the Battle Born LiFePO4 cells is another advantage. The cells in a Battle Born battery are cylindrical cells which have a longer life cycle and can discharge to 0% every time without any harmful effects, versus prismatic cells.
That’s a lot of techy lingo to say that Battle Born is a safe option to include in our solar system. Our system will contain (5) 100 ah lithium ion batteries. When we’re building out and organizing our garage we’re actually going to go ahead and block off enough space for (8) 100 ah hour batteries in case we decide to add more. AM Solar suggested 500-800 ah of lithium batteries, and because we’re always looking for a more conservative approach we’re starting on the smaller end of their suggestion and adding to our system if need be. We want to be able to live comfortably without always worrying that we’re low on battery power, but also not weigh our van down with an unnecessary amount of battery weight.
NOTE: Battle Born actually sells Victron components to monitor their batteries. These two companies work well together and we’re excited to combine the two in our new system!
Wires, Lugs, Diagrams, etc. for van conversion solar
When we ordered our entire system from AM Solar they also included every wire, lug, and diagram we need to assemble this system which is probably our absolute favorite thing about working with this company. We’ve shown a lot of individual components, but before you go off and buy these, know that there are a lot of other parts required to make them actually work, that’s where AM Solar comes in with their kits. Everything came in one box all labeled and ready to go which saved us a lot of headaches. The diagrams don’t just tell you where to connect all the wires though– they also walk you through the process of setting up the apps, updating the components when needed, and even list all the tools you’ll need for installation as well as offer some tips and tricks for the install process.
The box consisted of a variety of wires that would do everything from charging the batteries off the alternator to the little wires that run to the monitors. While many of these wires can be found at local hardware stores, the lugs and shrink wrap required for the larger wires are much harder to come by.
In addition to the wires, lugs, and heat shrink wrap, we also have a few other components in the box such as our combiner box, shore plug outlet, fuse boxes, and breaker boxes. While these components are smaller and less expensive, they’re still an essential part of our system.
Final Thoughts on Our Van Conversion Solar
From our experience with our solar system last time as well as looking at our new system on paper, we feel confident this system is going to serve us well and meet all of our needs on the road. Once we’ve had time to test and try this new system we’ll be sure to update you on how it’s holding up, working, and meeting our needs.
Like we said earlier, we very well might add (3) more batteries to our system but not unless we really feel like we need to. We want this system to be enough without being excessive so we’re going to go by the less is best motto for now. Stay tuned to see if we end up needing more battery power for all of our electrical components in the van…
Alright, that’s all for this post. If you have a question or comment, be sure to drop it in the comments below. If your question is about AM Solar, you can read more about them on our other blog post HERE. If your question is too techy for us, we’re going to recommend you talk with the pros (just like we did) because our knowledge is relatively basic when it comes to solar and electric. There’s no shame in consulting professionals when it comes to portions of a van build you are uncomfortable with! A DIY van doesn’t mean you have to do it all on your own! Better to swallow your pride and talk to a pro then do something terribly wrong that could be dangerous and/or expensive.