A DIY Solar System in a Van Conversion
When I began building my van conversion, I wanted to make it as homey as possible. I installed a bed that converts to a chaise, a giant sink that can double as a shower, and a high top that provides both storage and enough room to stand up inside.
But what makes my van conversion a home? The solar power system.
The van has 600 watts of solar on the roof, 440 AH of battery capacity under the bed, and it can power almost every kind of appliance that a normal house has.
I can run a 12 volt refrigerator, a 12 volt freezer, an induction cooktop, lights, two cell phones, and two laptop computers.
And it gets better:
A home theater!
It’s actually an LED projector and a frosted shower curtain, but I’m an optimistic person, so “theater” works for me.
It even contains a miniature washer and dryer, but I haven’t used those when I’m out boondocking yet.
As you can see, thanks to my solar panels, I have all the comforts of home in my van conversion. What’s so cool about a solar power system like mine is that the possibilities seem endless.
Toaster? Yes, you can run a toaster off solar.
Air conditioner? Okay, no, sorry. That’s probably not going to work with a small solar power system like this one.
If you want to get a better feel for what my system is comprised of and what it can run, take a gander at the lists below. Hopefully it will help you figure out what you’ll need for your own system.
Main Solar Components:
- Solar panels: Renogy 100 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panels (Qty. 6)
- Batteries: Lifeline 6 volt 220 AH (Qty. 4)
- Charge controller: Morningstar Tristar MPPT 60
- Battery monitor: Bogart Engineering Trimetric 2025-RV, with shunt
- Inverter 1: Xantrex PROWatt SW 2000
- Inverter 2: Samlex 600 Watt Pure Sine Wave Inverter
- 12 volt fuse block: Blue Sea 5026 ST Fuse Block
- Fuse for 2000 watt inverter: Blue Sea Systems 5118 250A Class T Fuse
- Fuse holder for 2000 watt inverter: Blue Sea Systems Class T Fuse Holder
- Mini-ANL fuse: Raptor Mini-ANL Fuse 80 amp
- Mini-ANL fuse holder: XScorpion Mini ANL Fuse Holder
- Distribution bar: Blue Sea 2104 PowerBar 600A
- Disconnect switch: Marinco 701
- Combiner box: hacked together from a Pelican 1170 case
- Lugs: Tinned copper and plain copper lugs in a variety of stud sizes and wire gauges
- Thick cable: 2 AWG, 4/0 AWG welding cable
- Fuses for 12 volt fuse block: ATD Tools 364 120-piece Car Fuse Kit
- Thin cable: Coleman Primary Wire 12 AWG
- Terminals: West Marine Wiring Connector Kit
- 12 volt socket: Blue Sea 12 Volt Socket
- USB socket: Blue Sea USB Socket
- 12 volt DC SPDT Switches – SPDT Automotive Round Rocker Switch Black
- 12 volt DC SPST Switches – SPST Amico Round Rocker Switch
Tools I bought specifically for my solar installation:
- Lug crimper: Forney 57637 Hammer Crimper (use for wire size 6 to 4/0 AWG)
- Terminal crimper: S&G Tool Aid 18900 Ratcheting Terminal Crimper (for wires 10-20 AWG)
- Vise: Shop Fox D3250 Bench Vise with Swivel Base, 6-Inch
- Cable cutters: Harbor Freight Cable Cutter 10-inch
- Wire cutters: TEKTON 3797 7-Inch Wire Stripper/Cutter
What I Can Run:
- one 12 volt DC refrigerator – Edgestar 43 Quart
- one 12 volt DC freezer – Edgestar 43 Quart
- an induction cooktop – DUXTOP Portable Induction Cooktop Countertop Burner 7100MC
- a toaster – Panasonic NB-G110PW FlashXpress Toaster Oven
- a microwave
- a blender – Vitamix
- a bucket-style immersion water heater – Allied Precision The Premier Line 742G Bucket Water Heater
- a mug-style immersion water heater – Norpro Instant Immersion Heater
- a 12 volt water pump – Shurflo Aqua King 1.0 (they don’t make this model anymore)
- a 12 volt camp shower – Ring Automotive Portable Shower
- an LED mini projector – Aaxa P300
- a Chromecast
- two laptop computers
- two smartphones
- a 12 volt fan – Fan-tastic Endless Breeze
- four LED lights – IKEA Inreda Lights
- a mini washing machine – Laundry Alternative Compact Mini Washing Machine
- a mini spin dryer – Laundry Alternative Nina Soft Spin Dryer
It might be hard to believe, but my small 600 watt system can power all of these items. I do live by two rules, however:
1. Don’t run more than one high-wattage item at a time.
2. Use the high-wattage items during the day.
The first rule is imposed because of the limits of my inverter and my battery bank. With a 2000 watt inverter, I try not to push it past 1300 watts. And if I do push more than 1300 watts through it, I don’t do it for long.
The second rule is easier to explain by example:
I like to use my induction cooktop to make bacon and eggs in the morning. It draws about 450 watts for about 20 minutes (the 12 volt refrigerator and freezer are also running 24/7). After cooking up a nice breakfast of bacon and eggs, the hit to my battery is never more than 2%. By the time I’m finished eating, the batteries are back up to 100% again.
So then I can go about my day, using 1% here, 2% there, and my batteries always seem to remain charged. This is because when the solar panels are in direct sun, my charge controller kicks into gear and tops off the batteries throughout the day.
The way I see it, my battery capacity really only has to last me about 6 hours—just enough to get through the late evening until I go to bed. I know that when I wake up the next morning, my batteries will very likely be full already.
So, that’s my DIY solar system, and those are my secrets for how to make the most of a solar power system. Like I said earlier, my van conversion has 600 watts of solar panels on the roof, and 440 AH of battery capacity. It feels like the perfect amount for a small space like a van, and I could totally see using the exact same system in tiny home or a small RV.
The best part about all of this? It’s totally DIY. If I can put something like this together, so can you!
Be sure to check out my van conversion blog at http://defyingnormal.com.