Technology update in the van

Two new batteries and an inverter: 120Ah batteries and 2000w modified sine wave interter.

It took a week, but Ken Peachy Caravans have upgraded the battery system and installed an inverter in our van. We only had one 100Ah battery and had issues with it running down so much that the alarm flashed. Our van was two years old when we bought it and the owners were living in it full time. I’m not sure how they coped! A couple of times we’ve run the engine for about half an hour to replenish the battery. Our concern has been the fridge, which only runs on 12v power.

We don’t have a habitat heating system installed, but have thought of running the engine and using the van’s heating system if we are in really cold conditions. Even in the larger motorhome we would only run the diesel heater for about half an hour, so would expect that it would only take a relatively short time in our smaller van. I don’t expect the van’s heater to work as well as a diesel heater of course.

We never have the gas on when running the engine and I wanted to have a way of boiling water for our morning cups of tea without having to switch the gas on. My research suggests that I shouldn’t run the engine whilst using the inverter as it puts too much power back into the system and might fry the cables. However, I will contact Appolo Campervans to check on this. With an inverter we can quickly boil the kettle, switch off, then start the engine and heat the van whilst we have our tea. We also need hot water for washes, but it doesn’t take very long once we switch on the gas (after first switching off the engine). It sounds more complicated than it is, we are used to being careful about gas.

The new installation is two 120Ah batteries. One replaced the old battery in the electrical box, the other had to be mounted in the bottom of our pantry. The workman was also able to fit the inverter next to it, and we actually don’t lose any space as the pantry is actually a little wardrobe and is quite high. Our dishes and stuff have just moved up onto a new shelf.

I’ve been trying out our applicances to see what works. The 2000w induction cooktop doesn’t, a pity, but not vital. I was surprised to find an ordinary 2000w electric kettle works just fine. I can now use our electric coffee grinder, that’s a win as hand grinding coffee is quite hard work. The 800w Instant Pot works, with no difficulty getting up to full pressure. Next thing to check is how much power it uses to stay at pressure for half an hour to cook a meal.

I’m not sure about my coffee machine, it seemed to give an error message, but then was OK, needs more testing. It’s rated at 1300w. At least it didn’t trigger the alarm on the inverter as happened with the induction cooktop. I’ve got a little travel hairdryer that is about 1200w and works just fine.

We went for a modified sine wave inverter because we have six USB ports around the van to power all of our sensitive electronics. There is a 12V plug in charging point near the TV if we need to charge higher powered electronics. The laptop and all the cameras come with USB-C ports which can work either from the normal USB ports with an adapted cable, or from the higher powered port where we use a 75w USB-C adapter. The inverter is only needed for kitchen appliances which are less sensitive to power fluctuations. By the way, all of my knowledge comes from watching YouTube videos about power solutions for vans. It might be wrong, but this is the consensus. Modified sine wave inverters are cheaper than pure sine wave inverters.

We have one solar panel panel on the roof and absolutely no room for more. We think the panel is 150w as it registers up to about 140w in good sun. We think its probably enough, given that we also drive the van most days, which also charges the batteries. If we need more power we could consider a portable system, good for when it’s hot and we need to park in the shade, but still want to have good solar. However, our plan is to go with our present system for the time being and only look at getting more solar panels if it is really necessary. Thing is, solar panels work on light (even moonlight and street lamps) and are very good at providing some power even in cloudy weather or in partial shade. At the moment we have a lot of smoke haze, the solar is drawing 95w(17v  5.6 amps) and the batteries are at 100%.

At this stage we don’t have a way of directly measuring the power usage of applicances. I can only keep an eye on the battery levels. The device I want, with Bluetooth, is $320, plus the cost of installation. It’s possible we can get something much cheaper that will work just as well and Bluetooth is not really necessary, just fun as I can use an app on my phone.

I’m very happy with the new setup and have sent an email to Ken Peachy Caravans to let them know.

From tomorrow we will have access to more regions of Western Australia for camping. We are all set to go.

UPDATE:

One of our big concerns has been that we don’t have a heater in the van. Running the engine and using the cab heating was a possible workaround. However, I have just tested our little ceramic fan heater. It is rated at 1800w and should, in theory, work. And it actually does. It doesn’t appear to be a big draw on the batteries either. We are unlikely to have it on for more than about 20 minutes at a time as it’s more than enough to heat such a small area.

The odd thing is that whilst an appliance is running the battery level goes down to about 80%, but once the appliance is switched off the batteries go back to 100%. I thought it was because of solar power replenishing the batteries, but this time there was very little light outside. I’m very puzzled.

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