Hi there! My name is Mirek and with Veru, we have founded the Smartie.Store some time ago. Besides our interest in technology and 3D printing, we also love traveling and a DIY camper van is by far the most cost efficient and practical way to continuously travel. Just like you, we have also got to a point where we started thinking how to have electricity available on our journey.
After some time we have changed a lot in our electric system. I would like to tell you what we now think is the perfect approach and why.
At the very beginning we thought we’ll be good with a car battery, a cheap solar charger and a 100W solar panel. But over time we have gained more knowledge, experience and at the same time our electricity requirements escalated knowing that it is the best investment we can make.
Basically it took half a year to perfect our system, learning from mistakes, occasionally (or better said on-demand) studying tutorials, switching between combinations and seeing what’s the most convenient option. Also we had in mind the fact that it is likely we’ll not be traveling in a van forever, although we pretty much like it and it may take a few more years before we get bored. For which case we wanted an electricity system we could easily take from the van and mount on a house if we ever happen to have one. We didn’t want to lose our investment into electricity system when we move.
And finally, if we happen to move to a house and the electricity system wouldn’t be powerful enough for some reason, we didn’t want to lose our investment with swapping the system for a more powerful one either. We wanted to have the option to extend the existing components to more power and virtually meet any possible needs (unless you want to build a power plant to supply your entire neighborhood).
That said, I’ll be showing you how to build a comfortable, fully sustainable renewable energy electric system for your camper van / RV, which is also suitable for a home of a couple. With the option to extend the system to suit needs of a big family.
My recommendation is to read this whole guide once before you start buying or doing anything, so you have a complex picture about the system and what you need to get and do.
Pro tip: If you ever want to get back to this guide, here’s how you find it on Smartie.Store:
In this article, I would like to present to you my current state of knowledge about building a universal, extendable camper van or home solar system, which I believe is already mature enough. And at the same time I would like to guide you how to build it yourself safely, without any previous knowledge and anyone’s professional assistance.
In other words, even if you are a barbie girl whose tech knowledge doesn’t reach beyond the fact that you have to plug your toaster into an electricity socket to make it work, after reading this you should be able to build a full scale solar / wind electricity system and storage to upgrade your house or build it into your DIY van for traveling.
I should emphasize that we are digital nomads, currently living in our van long term. So we want as much of the home comfort as possible. If you use your RV to get away from the civilization for a few weekends in a year, you’ll be good with a car battery and a 50W solar panel. For our purpose, we have chosen a system which:
- Is powerful enough to run our two computers, heating and a cooker or a cattle and small stuff (like router, data storage, phone charging, TV, …) at the same time. We don’t like the idea of being interrupted while working on a computer just because we wanted to have a tea / coffee or having to turn off the heating for the case we wanted to cook.
- Is expandable, in case we wanted more power anytime in future. We didn’t want to throw the existing components and swap them for more powerful in case of requiring more power, so we have only chosen components that are able to be interconnected and work in parallel. If this sounds complicated to you, it’s really just a wiring job comparable to plugging two toasters into two electricity sockets to make twice as much toasts at a time (yep, in fact we could call this a parallel connection).
- Is versatile and compatible with standard house electricity components. If you want to upgrade your house with a solar / wind system or if you want to take your electricity system to your future house from your current RV with you, you will be able to do it.
- Is composed of high quality components for long term durability. Namely the batteries will last long and the power inverter won’t damage your electronics. If you are not familiar with these terms, don’t worry, we’ve already picked the right stuff for most people.
The system consists of 3 parts:
- Renewable power sources.
- Power storage (batteries).
The source of renewable power are solar panels (also PV for PhotoVoltaic) and turbines (wind or water). Because turbines are worthy only in specific geographies, we’ll leave them out for now and save them for a latter optional addition.
Power storage is simply an interconnected battery pack.
Inverter in general is a device that makes the power from batteries usable for any of your home appliances. Our inverter of choice is an advanced one with many other integrated functions and works more like a brain of the whole system. Often called solar inverter, such a thing does:
- Use solar power to charge batteries.
- Use grid or generator power in case of solar power insufficiency to charge batteries. Grid is optional, you can use it completely off grid, but you have the option to plug your RV in case of need.
- Use batteries or renewable or grid to power your house or RV.
Don’t be afraid if you are not familiar with watts. It’s a common language to understand the amount of power, I’ll try to explain as simple as I can.
Whenever you are using a device, it continuously eats power. The amount of power it eats is counted in Watts or W for short or kW for thousands of watts. For example an ordinary laptop eats between 20 to 80 watts according to how demanding operations you are doing on it. A fridge may use around 20-60W continuous. Heating devices are specially demanding… an oil heater usually eats 1500W to 2000 W, a microwave around 2000W, a kettle 1000-2000W, an electric cooker 1500-2000W. TV/monitor may eat around 20W, a router perhaps around 5W in average.
If you start cooking eggs with your electric cooker (2000W) while watching TV (20W), which is streaming video from your router (5W) and you are boiling water for your morning coffee in a kettle (1500W), while of course your fridge is always on (20W), you are using around 3545W or 3.545kW of continuous power in total (all the watts summed up).
The inverter component is what supplies power to all your devices. The maximum continuous power of our chosen inverter is 5kW (5000 watts) which is sufficient for a lot of people. You can’t run a 2000W cooker, 1500W kettle and 2000W microwave at the same time, but you can easily wait for the microwave to finish and then start the kettle, while you are cooking, there’s absolutely no problem with that.
What if I need more than 5KW?
If you happen to have a really demanding device in your home or even large RV (for example some full size 4+ pan cookers with electric ovens integrated may use over 7KW if you crank everything up at the same time), you can always use two of these inverters simultaneously to increase your continuous power capacity to 10KW. In fact you can use up to 6 of these inverters in parallel if you want to run a welding workshop, but 5KW should be sufficient for most RVs and 10KW should be sufficient for most homes. It is absolutely OK to try how 5KW suits you and add another 5KW or more if you don’t find yourself comfortable.
What happens if I exceed 5KW continuously? Will the inverter fry?
Nope, this one comes with a protection. If more power goes through than it can handle, it will cut off the power supply and you have to manually reset it. Just like with circuit breakers at your home. It will turn off everything and you will have turn things on again, just like with breakers.
How do I find out how much watts exactly does a device use?
Some devices like heaters, cookers, kettles or lights are sold by power and often have the wattage noted on their box, because it’s their selling argument. These are easy.
If the wattage is not obvious, look at the power adapter of the device or if it doesn’t have an external adapter, look at the back of the device, usually where the power cord goes in. You should see a label with an OUTPUT information with two numbers, for example 19V 2A. Simply multiply these numbers, add 15% and you should have a picture of the device’s maximum usage. For example: 19*2*1.15 = 43.7W. We are adding 15% because these adapters are never 100% efficient, sometimes they have their efficiency written on as well.
Electronics rarely use their stated maximum wattage. If you turn on a heater, you can bet that it will try to continuously convert as much electric power into heat as it can, because that’s the point of heating, this applies for any heating device. Electronics on the other hand rarely use the stated wattage. For example a gaming laptop’s charger may be rated for 120W, but unless you are playing very demanding games, it may eat around 20-40W, e.g. while watching a video or doing office work.
If you have used say 1kW (1000W) continuously for one hour, you have used 1kWh (1 kilo-watt hour). You may be more familiar with kWh than kW, because that’s how electricity bills are paid: for the amount of kWh you consume. What if you use for example just 533W for an hour (on average)? Then you use 0.533 kWh.
Why does this matter to us if we are building a primarily off grid system here? Because we usually use kWh to determine the battery storage capacity. For our system we have chosen a 4.8 kWh battery storage.
OK, you may be thinking whaaaat? Just 4.8 kWh before I’m out of power?
Believe it or not, the average daily consumption of us two digital nomads is below 2 kWh, and we are running the computers like all day long besides cooking and boiling, using a mixer for our smoothies, watching TV, playing PC games and heating when cold. In theory this means we’d be good for 2 days of no sunlight. The key to complete self sustainability is to catch more power than one uses. Our solar panels give more than we use in a regular sunny day and during the cloudy days, they seem to give near equal input to our demand. We rarely get below 50% of our 4.8 kWh battery storage. The batteries are there for the really dark days and nights, with enough backup. In case you find out this is not enough for you, you can always add more, that’s completely fine.
Input sources are also measured in Watts or kilo-Watts. How much do you need? There’s a factor of available sunlight in your geography playing role. We travel around southern and central Europe and we seem to be doing fine with 400W of solar input. Again, you can always add more if you need.
How do I know how much sunlight can I expect in a specific area?
Search “average sunlight hours in your country” on Google images, chances are a map with relevant information will pop out. If not, just search Google.
Let’s recap. Our RV or starter home electricity system will consist of:
- 400W solar power
- 4.8 kWh battery storage
- 5kW solar inverter
Note: we are using the 220-240V 5kW inverter here for reference, but the 100-127V one is only 3kW. You may want to consider getting two of them.
Besides these, you will need:
- Cables with MC4 connectors on one side to connect the solar panels and the inverter. MC4 is the industry standard weather proof connector that all solar panels come with. You just need cables with that connector on one side.
- Cables to connect the batteries and the inverter.
- 2m extension lead.
- Optionally cables to connect the grid or a generator to the inverter.
- Optionally, you may want to get a standard 19 inch rack for the batteries. They are quite heavy and having them safely anchored in your van makes sense.
Where do you get all these? Me and Veru are trying to negotiate with factories to put on our store the best value/performance stuff we found out there. We haven’t managed to offer all the necessary components with reasonable prices yet, but we are working on it, check back next time you want to extend your system or build a separate one. In the meanwhile, we’ll provide links to third party sellers of the stuff we don’t have here yet.
Note: our Smartie.Store mainly targets the EU, but we can possibly ship anywhere in the world. If you just put things in cart and select for example the US, it will give you high shipping costs. Just contact our support (using the chat icon) and depending on your exact address we will hopefully be able to give you reasonable shipping rates.
Alright, let’s sum it up.
You can get the battery pack and solar inverter from our store at very competitive costs. Click here to get the 220-240V (EU) bundle or let us know through our support chat (the chat button bottom right) if you want to get the 100-127V kit outsite of the EU bundle to get you started. You will need two of the batteries for 4.8 kWh storage and the inverter, that’s 520€ for the inverter, 1462€ for the batteries. 1982€ all together excluding shipping.
How does this compare to Tesla Powerwall 2?
- Both Tesla Powerwall 2 (TP2) and our system provide 5kW continuous power.
- TP2 is a more compact and elegant thing compared to our DIY solution.
- Both have 90% or better power efficiency.
- Both are scalable solutions.
- The battery chemistry of our system (LFP or LiFePO4 or lithium iron phosphate) is generally believed to last longer than the battery chemistry used in TP2 (LiNiCoAlO2 or NCA in short), although Tesla offers similar warranties. Not sure here.
With 13.5 kWh capacity and overall cost of 7200€ (Germany), Tesla Powerwall 2 costs 534€ per kWh of storage (excluding supporting hardware and installation). If we scaled our DIY system up to 14.4 kWh capacity (6 battery modules), the cost would be 4906€ (including the inverter, because TP2 comes with an integrated inverter as well) and the price per kWh of capacity would be 341€, which is 65% of the TP2 costs.
Also, this may not be an advantage for everyone, but perhaps the fact that you can start scaling at 1982€ instead of 7200€ may be a good point, specially if you want spend something on building the rest of the van or house.
I’m personally a huge fan of Tesla, so I hope I made this comparison fair.
Bonus question: Why doesn’t Tesla use LFP (LiFePO4) battery composition? As you may know, the Powerwall is basically a side product of Tesla’s battery manufacturing efforts for their cars. Because LiNiCoAlO2 comes with better energy density, the cars are lighter than if they were using LiFePO4, which results in using less energy to move them. That’s a smart choice.
Why so expensive batteries? Can't I use 4 of 100A car batteries to achieve the same capacity and have them for around 400€?
Yes, you can.
That’s what we’ve done with Veru as well, but later we have decided for LiFePO4 batteries (car batteries are lead acid type of batteries). Later we found out that LiFePO4 is a better investment in all aspects compared to car batteries or AGM (AGM in short is something like a better car battery with the ability to completely discharge without significant damage, they are just slightly more expensive).
|Car batts / Gel / AGM||LiFePO4|
|Ability to completely discharge without damage||just AGM, with a regular car battery each complete discharge significantly reduces the overall battery capacity, so theoretically you have only about 60% of the overall capacity available at the beginning||yep|
|Average cycles to 20% overall capacity reduction||car battery about 200 cycles, AGM about 600||5000|
|Charging resistance (how much power gets lost while charging)||up to 30%||less than 2%|
|Weight per 1 kWh of storage||about 24 kg||about 10 kg|
|Dangers||Acid spill with unsealed models, gas exhaust if overcharged.||None|
|Price per 1 kWh of storage per 1000 cycles||car batt 117€ / 200 * 1000 = 585€, AGM 237€ / 600 * 1000 = 395€||304€ / 5000 * 1000 = 61€|
Yep, at first the prices sound good, but if you consider that for the lifetime of a LiFePO4 battery you need to buy a similar car battery up to 25 times (!), it doesn’t sound so good anymore.
I've heard some people make their own battery packs more cost efficiently (DIY powerwalls)?
I’ve explored this option myself and my conclusion is: besides the fact that you need engineering level knowledge, you either
- spend time and the same money or more as if you bought a ready made battery pack
- or you end up investing less than if you bought a ready made battery pack, but you spend years collecting the battery cells and at the end your batteries will be nowhere the quality a ready made battery pack is.
Plus you still have to get an inverter. These DIY powerwalls are just battery packs, they don’t include inverters like the Tesla Powerwall does.
If you are interested in knowing more, let me try to explain how people make their own battery storage. We are only speaking lithium batteries, because other technologies just don’t have the cycles worth mentioning.
Imagine you have sole battery cells, very similar to alkaline batteries used in TV remote controllers, just slightly bigger and lithium ones. What people do is welding these together, thousands of them, to compose their desired voltage and capacity.
Maybe it sounds easy, but then you realize that battery cells have to be balanced. Imagine each cell of the thousands has its own level of charge. At the beginning the level of charge of each individual cell is roughly at the same. When the battery pack is being charged, all the batteries raise their level of charge simultaneously and when power is being drawn from the battery pack, all the cells simultaneously decrease their level of charge.
Because each of the cell is a unique independent piece, they have a teeny tiny bit difference in resistance, which determines how they are charged and discharged. While one cell charges better, another one may not charge so well. And after hundreds of cycles, few cells in a pack will be slightly over or under the average charge level.
There are two solutions. Each half a year or so, you can grab a multimeter and check the voltages of your battery pack. Obviously you don’t want to spend a week checking every individual cell of the thousands, so what people do is they have the battery pack divided into modules of about 500-ish cells and check just each individual module as a whole. Then they use a charger to balance the whole module to a roughly same level of charge with the rest of the modules.
Another option is getting a Battery Management System (BMS), which is a hardware sitting between the charger and the battery pack modules and it keeps checking the modules for you, balancing them automatically. That’s way more convenient, but a BMS costs a few hundred bucks itself.
You may be asking: if the cells are balanced in modules of hundreds, can’t a single cell within a module still get out of control? It can. Either it can get undercharged, which damages the cell and decreases its capacity. Or worse it can get overcharged and catch on fire. This depends on type of the lithium cell, some lithium cells never catch on fire, because their energy density is just not high enough (lithium titanate or lithium iron phosphate for example). But the battery cells that are the most widely accessible (because they are being used in electronics) are potentially dangerous (the NMC composition lithium cells).
That’s why each cell in a module needs to be connected over a sort of fuse, which comes with small additional costs.
And finally the greatest challenge: getting the cells. You generally have two options: buy new ones or buy used battery packs and scavenge the good cells out of them.
Buying new cells + BMS will always result in investing the same or more money as if you bought a ready made battery pack according to my repetitive research, plus you need the knowledge and time to put it together. Have you found a way to do this in less than say 200€ / kWh of storage? Please let me know. Otherwise it’s just not worth the investment compared to the battery packs we found to sell on Smartie.Store.
The option of scavenging cells basically involves months or years of looking for used second hand batteries from laptops, drills and any electronics that may contain some good cells. It’s also about being lucky. From each laptop battery you tear apart you may get 0-6 cells of a worthy capacity. These will be the NMC type of cells. Once you have enough for a module, you weld them together and attach a BMS. It takes tremendous time, effort and some knowledge, but eventually you can end up with more or less good NMC cells for lower price than if you bought a ready made battery pack.
NMC cells still have noticeably lower life span than LFP (LiFePO4), which is used primarily for home energy storage. NMC on the other hand has greater energy density, which is very suitable for electronics, because your laptop or phone is lighter.
Can I use a second hand battery pack module from a Tesla car?
Yes, that may be a relatively good option if you can get a module + battery management system (BMS) cheaper than LiFePO4 battery modules (which already include BMS).
Tesla uses NCA type lithium battery cells (LiNiCoAlO2), which potentially don’t have the cycles a lithium LFP (LiFePO4) battery has, but Tesla seems to offer similar warranties. Who knows. 🤔
Perhaps you should also check where is the module from and how many cycles has it gone through already.
How does LiFePO4 (LFP) compare to other lithium options?
Lithium iron phosphate or LiFePO4 seems to be the best option for energy storage and that’s what it is mainly used for thought the industry.
Let’s compare the properties of various Lithium compositions in a table:
Source: The Battery University
Can I use different LiFePO4 (LFP) battery modules than the ones you offer?
There’s many manufacturers of such battery modules.
We are giving this guide away for free to help you and you are a free man with free will.
Our offer is very competitive though (otherwise we wouldn’t bother putting it on our store), feel free to check elsewhere.
Because we are mostly talking an off grid system here, the choice of one specific component (the inverter) won’t allow you to sell excess power to your grid provider. You will be able to substitute your solar / wind power from the grid or a generator if they are insufficient, but you won’t be able to sell excess power from your solar / wind sources. We’ve made this choice, because such particular component with the ability to send power to the grid comes with a sort of regulation and hassle from the grid providers. First, these devices have to be approved by the grid provider, which often completely excludes the cheaper but reliable Chinese brands. Second, the grid providers often require a professional to install the system for you, which eliminates your chance to save money by doing it yourself, which otherwise is very doable for many people. Third, inverters with the ability to send electricity to the grid (grid tie inverters) are usually twice as expensive.
Now I am not saying that selling excess electricity is a no no. We just won’t cover it here for obvious reasons. You need to explore your local options very well and consider pros (the price you can sell for) and cons (installation requirements and costs). Either way, in many countries dealing with a utility/grid provider is pain, you usually don’t earn any significant returns on the investment you’ve built your backyard power plant with, blackouts happen anyway and self sustainability is a bliss.
Further information below is not important to you. It’s here rather for the advanced ones asking curios questions.
We have decided for a 48V system configuration considering that you will use standard home AC devices, just like we do. Some people use standard car 12V system in their configuration, which in addition to standard AC devices allows them to use DC car devices, like for example a car phone charger. That alone may seem to be an advantage, but in fact there are very little reasons to use 12V unless your actual integrated car battery is the main one, which may only sound good for very basic systems nowhere near the power we are aiming for.
- 12V is a relatively weak voltage to carry reasonable current. That’s why the jump start cables are so bulky, and cables around your van or house will be even bulkier and significantly expensive.
- The only reason to use DC alongside with normal AC is smaller power loss. There’s big BUT though. The device you are using has to be the same DC voltage. With a 12V system you need to use 12V stuff. For example a car phone charger, which is probably the most common 12V device, usually converts 12V to 5V for charing a phone and therefore there’s a power loss in the conversion. Some DC converters lose up to 30% of power in conversion. Compared to using just AC there is double power conversion. First the inverter converts DC to AC with about 90% efficiency, then an AC phone charger converts AC back to DC with about 85%+ efficiency. I am not sure why such a double conversion may be similarly efficient as a single conversion. My only explanation is that AC adapters and inverters are more widespread and have been more optimized over time. But the conclusion is you rather don’t save power by using DC alongside with AC.
- If you still wish to use DC along with AC for any reason, you can absolutely do so with our 48V system. You just need 48V devices or 48V adapters that convert to whatever voltage your device is. One could say there’s far more and cheaper 12V devices than 48V on the market. My answer would be there’s even more and cheaper regular household AC devices.
- And… the DC part of a solar system is unstable. We originally had 12V system and we have run almost everything on DC just for the sake of saving power on double conversions. I had even my desktop computer converted to DC power supply. Computer components run at 12V and convert it further to lower voltages according to their needs, but they expect a stable 12V supply with a 5% error maximum, which is 11.4V at least and 12.6V at most. The problem is that the DC part of the system is directly affected by fluctuations in solar charging. When your solar panels are exposed to direct sunlight, the charging voltage may jump over 14V, which was a voltage I was no longer able to start my computer with.
These are the reasons why we have completely abandoned using DC over time.
We have chosen an inverter with MPPT solar charger. The other, older and cheaper option is PWM. What PWM does is that it takes the desired system power from the solar panels, say 14V and it charges the batteries at that voltage. Solar panels intentionally give more than that, usually about 18V for a 12V system, so there’s always enough room when the clouds come and voltage drops for the PWM charger to still charge the batteries efficiently. MPPT does what PWM does, but MPPT is also able to convert excess voltage into current. In other words, it is able to squeeze more charge for the batteries from the same solar output.
Also, this inverter provides AC power in pure sine wave. The other option is modified sine wave. When the inverter converts direct current from batteries to alternating current your devices use, it switches poles of the power 50 or 60 times per second (50/60 Hz) depending on what is the standard in your area. The following image shows how progressive the inversions are in a pure sine wave and how clumsy they are in a modified sine wave:
For your devices running on a modified sine inverter it is like a going in a car with square wheels. They wear off sooner and some don’t even work. The advantage of modified sine inverters is that they are cheaper. For occasional weekend campers modified sine is OK.
- 400W solar panels (you need to get 4 units): Amazon EU, Amazon UK, Amazon US
- Cables with MC4 connectors on one side to connect the solar panels and the inverter. Get them here. 10 meters should be enough for any RV. If you need more, you can extend these. Just go to any DIY store and ask for copper stranded (not solid) size 4mm2 (in the EU) or AWG12 (in the US).
- Cables to connect the batteries and the inverter. (see below)
- 2 meter, 3-6 socket extension leads can be found anywhere or on Amazon: EU plug, UK plug, US plug.
- Optional cables to connect the grid or a generator to the inverter, which is likely to be another extension lead in case of a van.
Because the cables connecting the battery pack and the inverter need to be strong enough, it is recommended to install your battery pack as close to the inverter as possible. If the battery pack is up to 1 meter away from your inverter, you will need 2 meters of stranded copper 6mm2 (AWG10) cable to connect the batteries to the inverter (for both positive and negative connections), so the cables are big enough to carry the inverter’s maximum energy output. For 2 meters long connection you will need 10mm2 (AWG8) cable. 3-4m long connection require 16mm2 (AWG6). 5-6m long connection require 25mm2 (AWG4). And then the cables get significantly expensive and heavy. That’s why I recommend putting the batteries as close to the inverter as possible.
You may also want to get half black and half red if possible, so you have less chance confusing positive and negative.
Most DIY stores should be able to provide you with sufficient cables.
Received everything necessary and ready to get the system to work? Congratulations!
Please note that some steps below are potentially dangerous (I will specifically mention where). Don’t be afraid! Just be careful and follow the precautions. Always make sure your hands are not wet before touching wires. Please understand that no matter how safe I am trying to make this guide, either Smartie.Store or I can’t take responsibility for any damage or harm caused.
Pro tip: Before you can start connecting cables, you need to remove cable connectors cover from the inverter (see below). When you are done, don’t forget to put it on again.
1. Grid input and inverter output
At this point there should be no cables connected to the inverter at all and there should be no power in it. Which means you are safe to play around. But if you are coming back to this step from a later stage, you should make sure:
- your inverter input (grid input or AC input) plug is not connected to the grid or wall socket,
- the inverter and battery modules are turned off.
We need to be careful here, because the grid input and inverter output are high voltage connections and there’s a chance of shock, if under power.
Cut the extension lead in half and strip the wires, so you have 3 wires sticking from each half of the extension lead. These wires are called depending on your area’s convention:
- Phase/Line/Live/Hot, we’ll call it L-wire
- Neutral/Negative, we’ll call it N-wire
- Ground/Earth, we’ll call it G-wire
Now important part, you need to figure out which wire of each 3 is which. The colors of these wires are not uniform around the world, use the following table for your reference:
|L wire||N wire||G wire|
|EU, Argentina, South Africa||Brown||Blue||Green + yellow|
|Australia, New Zealand||Brown or Red||Blue or Black||Green + yellow|
|US, Canada||Black (!)||White||Green or Green + yellow|
|Brazil||Yellow (!) or Red||Blue||Green|
Great, now you know which is which. This has to be done right so if you are not 100% sure, try asking someone who may know. Alternatively, you can try to ask our support using the chat button if there is no other option.
Take the extension lead half with sockets and connect the three wires to the inverter output pins (= AC output). L wire goes to the pin marked as L, N wire to N, G wire to whatever the third pin is marked with:
Repeat this with the extension lead half with plug and the grid input pins, make 100% sure you don’t confuse inverter output and grid input (grid input = inverter input = AC input):
2. Connecting the batteries
Batteries are even easier to connect. You can have virtually any amount of battery modules in your battery storage interconnected this way:
These cables used to interconnect the battery modules should be part of each battery module package.
It doesn’t matter which of the two red or two black ports on each module you choose, they work the same. Just make sure to connect red with red and black with black.
Next grab your cables for battery pack to inverter connection, choose either the free red and black connectors on top or bottom of the battery pack, it doesn’t matter which ones you choose, but both should be one side. And connect these with the inverter’s DC input ports, positive to positive and negative to negative.
Can I use just a single battery module from your store or do I need to start with 2?
It is necessary to start with 2, because a single battery module wouldn’t be able to keep up with this particular inverter. From two modules up you can scale by a single module at a time.
I already have lead acid / gel / AGM batts, can I use them before I can afford these lithium ones?
Sure thing. Depending on what you have, they have to be connected accordingly.
If you own a 48V battery, you can connect it the same way as you would have connect the lithium batteries we supply.
If you own a 24V battery, you need to connect two of them in series to make them output 48V, then connect them to the inverter:
If you had 4 of 24V batteries, you would connect them this way:
If you had 12V batteries, you would need 4 of them to put 48V together:
3. Connecting the solar panels
First put the solar panels on your roof. It’s a mission impossible putting them on when they are interconnected.
Having your 4 solar panels placed, there’s 1 black and 1 red cable coming out of each, 8 cables in total. Connect them together just like on the picture below. At the end you should end up with 1 free red and 1 free black cable.
Now find your 10m red and black cables with MC4 connectors on one side, connect them to the 2 free cables with corresponding colors coming out of the solar panels and connect the other ends to the inverter’s “PV input” (PhotoVoltaic) at the bottom, red cable to the + (positive) terminal and the black cable to the – (negative) terminal:
How do I add more solar panels?
Need more juice? No problem.
Get another pack of 4 solar panels and cables with MC4 on one side and connect them the same way as with the first 4 solar panels. Then connect them to the inverter the same way as before. Yes, this time you simply shove two red cables into the + (positive) port and two black cables into the – (negative) port.
This way you can connect up to 4500W of solar power, although it may get a bit clumsy at the ports. You may consider connecting the solar panel outputs together into a single cable, then connecting them to the inverter.
Can I use 5, 6, 7 solar panels in a row (series)? Can I use a different panel I already have?
In order the understand what third party solar panels can you add to the system, let’s explain a bit more in detail how things work there.
These solar panels we are using are designed for 12V systems, but our system is 48V. If we connect them in a row (series), connecting each red wire to the next black wire, in other words, the voltage will sum up and 4 of them will give 48 volts. That’s already enough to run the inverter’s integrated MPPT charger.
The best thing is to add another row of 4 solar panels designed for 12V systems and connect them parallel to the first group as described in the How do I add more panels? answer.
There’s also another option. Because an MPPT charger can convert the higher voltage into power than it is designed for, we can have more than 4 panels in a row.
How many? This particular inverter’s maximum solar open circuit voltage is 145 volts. The meaning of a solar panel being designed for 12V systems is that it has to kick way more than 12V. The open-circuit voltage of our single solar panel is 22.5V. The original 4-panel array is therefore actually 90V open-circuit voltage (VOC) summed up.
If we add 5th panel, the VOC will increase to 112.5. That’s still OK. We can add 6th panel and increase the voltage to 135VOC and that’s just enough we can squeeze within the limit.
Instead of adding 7th panel to an array, use two arrays of 4 panels (8 in total) as described in the How do I add more panels? answer.
No matter if you are using the solar panels I recommend or any different ones, this is how you should be counting. A solar panel’s VOC is usually mentioned where you bought it or at the back side of the panel itself.
There’s also the 4500 wattage limit you can supply into one of these inverters in total (but you can have up to 6 of these inverters working in parallel).
How do I add a wind turbine?
We’ve got some fancy wind turbines ready for you. Important, you need to get a 48V wind turbine. But before you grab one, consider the following:
- Unlike solar panels, a wind turbine has moving parts. A solar panel can last for decades really, while a wind turbine is likely to wear off within a decade and you may need to swap the bearing(s).
- Unless you live on the poles, your solar panel array is going to give some power every single day in a year. A wind turbine only gives power if there is wind. You may want to check the average yearly wind speed in your location.
- Wind turbines give much more power in size comparison to solar panels.
- Not always, but usually a wind turbine has to be placed in certain height to catch reasonable winds. The pole it sits on costs something.
- There’s two kinds of wind turbines: horizontal axis propeller ones, which are more efficient in converting wind energy to electric energy and horizontal axis ones which are less efficient, but start spinning in slower wind. This is called activation wind speed.
- Wind turbines also have survival wind speed limit above which they may get damaged. Some have brakes to prevent destruction.
- Wind turbines need a dump load where they can put excess power in case your batteries are fully charged. This can be a specific device or most commonly a (water) heater. Solar panels don’t need that.
- If you put a wind turbine on your van, you will probably need to fold it (somehow) every time you want to drive and unfold it when you stop for camping.
- In the cloudy windy rainy awful days when the solar panels are not keeping up, a wind turbine is your savior.
Is a wind turbine worth it? If you live/travel in coastal areas or in higher altitudes, definitely. We are of course speaking small home use wind turbines, not the monster ones you see on fields, those are good perhaps anywhere in the world because of their height and protective technologies.
Here’s how do you connect it to the system:
4. Finishing Up
At this point, you should be completely set:
Just turn all the battery modules on, turn the inverter on and you should be able to use the extension lead sockets for any of your appliances. Just like a wall socket.
Inverter power switch:
You may want to get additional extension leads and distribute sockets around your van. Extension leads are really the easiest and safest way to distribute electricity around a small area. Some extension leads are wall-mountable: EU plug, UK plug, US plug. Some are even wall integrated: EU plug, US plug, UK plug.
Choose a proper thick lead for your kitchen, where your cooker, microwave and kettle is or don’t have your kitchen more than 4 cable meters away from the inverter if you use an ordinary extension lead. Guys in any DIY store should be able to tell you how much watts can an extension lead bare. And you should be already able to calculate how much do you need.
How do I do proper wall sockets?
Wall sockets are simply extension leads integrated into the wall. We were lazy and have built literal ordinary extension leads into our wall and shelves. As long as you can safely anchor them, it’s perfectly fine.
The installation of proper wall sockets and integrating circuits into walls is something you have to research on your own. You can do it! YouTube contains a lot of resources. Try looking for tutorials from your area as sockets and cable colors are different.
You should be set for your journey. If you have any questions or think there should be something additional mentioned in this guide, leave a comment down below or message us by the chat button in bottom right of the screen and let us know!
Enjoy your adventures! 🙂
Mirek & Veru
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Changing the inverter's settings
The inverter should work out of box, but if you need to change its settings for any reason, here’s how you do it.
Use the control buttons near the inverter’s display to enter the settings menu:
After pressing and holding the ENTER button for 3 seconds, the inverter will enter setting mode. Using the UP and DOWN buttons you can navigate settings, which are identified by numbers (see inverter’s manual starting from page 15). Navigate the setting you are looking for and press ENTER to confirm the selection or ESC button to exit.
Setting the inverter to work as a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply or simply blackout backup)
You will need to change a setting of the inverter here, please have a look at the Changing the inverter’s settings answer first.
Out of box the inverter switches to grid (if available) only after using the majority of the battery power (75%) and only if there is not enough renewable power supply at the same time. Which is the desired off grid function, but if the odds are against you and:
- The days are dark and there is no wind. There is not enough renewable power.
- The battery pack has been already depleted.
- Blackout occurs.
In such a situation, the best thing you can do is climbing up the roof and keep spinning a wind turbine with your hands to get some power… or mount it on a bicycle 😁, otherwise you are screwed.
Fortunately, the inverter comes with a program to set the minimum battery charge level before it starts charging from the grid. If you set it to say 50%, the inverter will only use the renewables to charge the battery until the charge drops below 50%. After dropping below 50%, the inverter will switch to grid charging to make sure there is always at least 50% in your battery pack ready for use. This way you can be sure that if a blackout occurs, your household can keep going.
The setting number is 12
The charge level is set in voltage number. Here’s how you calculate the setting value: 44 + (8.1 / 100 * percentage), where percentage is your desired minimum battery pack charge level in percent, for example:
If you have a van the good news is you don’t need a full-scale home heater, because the volume you are heating up much smaller than a regular room.
Perhaps you have considered heating with a regular stove:
+ Wood or something you can burn is almost anywhere for free or is cheap.
– You have to maintain your supplies by collecting or buying something you can burn
– It takes up significant space.
– You get dirty.
– You can burn yourself, your children or pets or your entire van.
– You have to get up during the night to keep it burning.
– It smells and makes you dirty.
– You get dirty.
– Nobody parks close to you, because they don’t want to be as dirty as you.
– The police can see where you are camping from miles away. Specially practical in cities.
– You need to make quite a big hole for the chimney in the van, which is not as easy it looks. Then you have to keep the insulated, clean the chimney (depending on what you burn) and again, you get dirty.
– You need ventilation, so you have enough oxygen inside. This seems to be surprisingly dangerous.
– It takes time to get stuff burning.
– It contributes to global warming (if you care).
OK, what about candles or a gas burner?
+ You are not as dirty.
+ Low noise.
– You still have to get gas or candles, which are not available in the wilderness. So you need to plan your supplies.
– Can set your van on fire.
– You need ventilation to get some oxygen inside, because they burn it. This seems to be surprisingly dangerous.
– Takes some space and safe radius.
Fuel operated parking heaters, anyone?
+ Comfortable to start.
+ You don’t get dirty.
+ You don’t have to get up during the night.
+ Takes almost no space.
– May be noisy, depends where you put it.
– Significantly pricier than the previous options.
– Needs to be planned ahead with your van conversion. May be challenging to install.
– You still have to get fuel, which is not available in the wilderness. So you need to plan your supplies.
– Fuel gets into your budget.
– It contributes to global warming (if you care).
+ Electric heaters are the most cost efficient option.
– The system you need to run them is the biggest investment of all heating options mentioned. But obviously you don’t use the system just for heating, but all your energy needs.
+ Comfortable or automatic to start.
+ You don’t have to get up during the night.
+ You don’t get dirty.
+ You don’t need to keep supplies and plan your trip accordingly.
+ The energy is “free” besides the investment.
+ Significantly smaller chance to get burned or set your van/house on fire.
+ Takes the least space.
+ Easiest to install.
+ Low or no noise, depending on technology.
+ No burning, no carbon dioxide, no global warming contribution.
+ Usually intelligent enough to maintain a temperature.
Decided for electric heating? Here are the options you have:
+ Energy efficient.
+ No noise.
+ Keeps a space heat up even if the heater is off.
– Higher cost compared to other electric options.
– Takes some time to heat up a space.
– Heavy and relatively bulky.
+ Usually low cost.
+ Heats up space relatively quickly.
+ Usually light and small. You can even hang it on a wall.
– Less energy efficient.
– Small noise.
– Doesn’t heat once you turn it off.
+ Most energy efficient.
+ No noise.
+ Usually light and small. You can even hang it on a wall.
+ Can be design-ish.
+ The heat is immediately radiated through out the space. You can feel the heat instantly.
+ Because it doesn’t heat up the air, it doesn’t dry it out.
– Doesn’t heat once you turn it off.
– Affordable but the most pricey option.
– Doesn’t heat up air so the heat quickly dissapears once you turn it off.
– Doesn’t heat through obstacles. It is radiating heat the same way as the Sun. If you hide from the Sun behind a tree, you can’t feel the heat.
+ Very cost efficient.
+ No noise.
+ Takes no space.
+ Take some time to heat up the space but you can feel the heat on your feet quickly which makes you feel warm.
+ Heats up the entire space proportionaly from the very bottom (you don’t end up with burning head and frozen legs).
+ Usually comes with a thermostat so can maintain a temperature.
– Less energy efficient.
– Has to be intagrated into the floor so you need to count with it when converting your van or building your home.
How much power do you need for a van?
Less than any kind of AC heater can offer. Just set any heater up to maintain your desired temperature and it will use a proportional power to do so which may result in 100-300W avarage continuous usage.
Because you want to save as much power as possible and cooking in general is particularly energy demanding, energy efficient ways of cooking are your choice.
Get an induction cooktop. It’s the safest, cleanest way to cook and almost twice as efficient as regular electric cookers. You can get a pan of water boiling in 5 minutes. You need induction pans (the ones with coil symbol on them), which most of the pans you can get today are. And they are already almost as affordable as the old school ones. One advantage: you can boil water on an induction cooker almost the same way you’d boil it in a kettle, so you don’t need a kettle.
Use microwave where possible. Chances are you would be surprised what magic you can do with a microwave. Are you afraid that a microwave damages your food? We thought so, but then we’ve done some research on that. Microwave is a very energy efficient in terms of heating things up.
Gas is an option, but you know the downsides.
With Veru we were looking for a compact induction cooktop that would fit as many people as possible and we found this one. We like it because:
– It has got a stand, so you can put it on your kitchen top and then remove it if your kitchen is small.
– At the same the keramic pane’s got overhangs, so you can integrated into your kitchen top.
– You can anytime take it out of the hole in your kitchen top, take and extension lead and cook outside if you wish to.
– It’s got a normal touch display. It’s easy to use.
– It’s reasonably priced.
– It’s 2000W, a powerful one.
– It’s compact and single pan cooker. If you want to cook with two pans, you can get two of these and arrange them in your cooktop just as you need. You are not limited by the size or orientation of a double cooktop.
– If you are not familiar with induction cooking: the cooktop doesn’t heat up, the pan does. When you remove the pan, you can immediately use the cooktop as a free space in your kitchen.
Tilting solar panels
Perhaps you want to squeeze out as much as possible from your solar panels and you may be wondering if tilting them to a direct sunshine is worth it.
I was surprised to find out that if a solar panel is tilted only 45 degrees away from the Sun, it gives half the power. Therefore if you can figure out a way of comfortably tilting the solar panels towards the Sun while always having them safely anchored against strong winds, it’s absolutely worth it.
But a DIY solution may better meet your needs and may as well be more cost efficient.
Mounting the inverter on a wall
Use M4 or M5 screws through these holes:
Not sure what’s M4, M5? The M-number is a way to tell screw thickness / thread diameter. Any DIY store that sells screws has them marked by M numbers, so just find the ones of size 4 or 5! Easy peasy.