Inverter - Solar Charge Controller All in one

Hi everyone, i´m Javier from Argentina.

I am in the process of building our VAN with Vicky, my girlfriend, and we have to decide our elecrical system. I don’t know if buy an inverter solar charge controller all in one and work all my electrical items in 220V (like an off grid house) or buy a pure sine inverter and a MPPT solar charge controller separately.

Have anyone considered this option?? I do not know the advantages and disadvantages and what we should install.

Thank you very much!! Appreciate your help!!

Welcome to the forum Javier.

Personally I would keep them separate. Reason being, if one breaks down the replacement cost isn’t as much, and it’s easier to troubleshoot something that is less complex. I’ve also found that “all in one” devices tend to not be as reliable as standalone devices, especially if it’s low cost - there has to be a tradeoff. The company making controllers may not make the best inverters, and vice-versa.

Also, keeping them separate may give you more flexibility in the design, and is more able to adapt to your changing needs. I almost never use an inverter. Almost everything I have runs on 12 volts, which is much more efficient than running things on AC. If you run everything on AC (220 volts), you’ll need more battery and charging capacity, which drives up the cost and adds to the complexity. More likely to not work when you need it the most.

Greetings & Welcome!

I totally agree with Axel that separate is better…

My overall solution is slightly different though… First, I charge my house battery while driving, which takes care of all my needs at least 99% of the time.

Now, like many others, I’ve never had much luck with solar, even though I’ve wasted many thousands of dollars trying to make it work. So instead of solar, I now have a $99 generator and a $29 battery charger. On the rare occasion that I need grid style power, the generator will supply it, and can even charge my batteries at the same time. If I’m somewhere with power, the same battery charger can keep my batteries topped off. And the biggest advantages, besides being cheap & reliable, is that it doesn’t depend on the weather being cooperative, or me parking in the sun during the summer, which is pure stupidity.

Cheers!


"Solar power is _THE_MOST_ EXPENSIVE_ power option." ~ JustTheFacts


My solar power system has been flawless. It supplies all my electrical needs while parked, even when the weather is bad and the van is mostly shaded during the day. As an example, a few weeks ago I spent a week parked in a New Hampshire forest with just a few hours of sun a day for the first three days and the last four days overcast and raining. The battery never went low despite running fans all night, device charging, and lighting - every night.

The key with solar is establishing an electrical budget and then adding more solar/battery capacity to the budget to account for bad weather and parking in areas that may be shaded most of the time.

I don’t charge from the van alternator and have never had to use my battery charger. So far my house battery has been charged 100% with solar.

The only difference between having solar and not having solar is two simple solid state components - the solar panel and its charge controller. The rest is the same. If you want to carry extra gas and deal with generator maintenance or have to drive the van to charge the battery so be it. I’d rather use solar - quiet, clean, and it’s always charging when light is striking the panel.

Greetings!

@Axel,

For the sake of a relevant discussion and comparison, we’ll agree that we are both happy with our systems and that they meet our needs, and the main difference is our charging methods. Since my generator is only a backup plan, and I haven’t used it for my charging in the last 3-4 years, we’ll leave that out of this equation for now.

My house battery & charging system was professionally installed at a used battery shop for a total of $80 which included the house battery, parts, & labor. Installation start to finish took 15-20 minutes.

For reference, I never drive just to charge my house battery, it will last a full week before needing to be charged. Since I wanted 2 weeks capacity, I switched out my starter battery for another used deep cycle battery ($18), and added a $16 bypass switch so I could use my starter battery for the second week. A battery protector prevents it from being drained too low to start my van.

2 weeks was my goal because that is the maximum allowed stay in many places, and I’m likely going to want to restock groceries etc. anyway. The bottom line is my house electrical system cost under $120, both batteries included.

So the big question is, in comparison, how much did your solar system cost, current version, installed & working? And for reference, how many times did you need to modify it to get to where it is today?

I am also a firm believer in backup plans, and my $99 generator & $29 battery charger provide 2 different backup plans. Either using the generator, or shore power to charge my batteries. As an added bonus, the generator can supply shore power anytime and anywhere, without the need of an expensive inverter. It could run an air conditioner or electric heater if I needed it to, and at 8 hours on a gallon of gas, it’s pretty economical too. $130 for a such a useful and versatile backup plan is money well spent in my book, and they are easily transferable to a new rig if the need arises.

Cheers!


"Looking back, solar was a huge & costly mistake." ~ SimplySally


My solar panel cost $139 with free shipping from eBay, and the charge controller was $40 used, also from eBay.

I never had to modify anything because I calculated an electrical budget beforehand and built the system to meet my needs.

For heat I burn charcoal or coal in my solid fuel heater which is very effective - no electricity required, and for cooling I use a DIY evaporative cooler, which is also very effective and uses just a couple of amps and is well within my electrical budget. In the winter there’s less sun, but I’m not drawing the battery down with a swamp cooler. In summer there’s enough extra solar charging to run the swamp cooler without any issues.

I have never had to plug in to charge the battery. So far it’s been 100% charged with solar.

I just added a 12 volt television set which draws a couple amps. If I start to run low I may have to add another 50 watts of solar. I already have the 50 watt panel on hand; used to use it while tent camping.

Greetings!

@Axel,

Okay, now I’m starting to understand you, and your position better. We are both minimalists when it comes to power. Unfortunately (for others…) we represent a pretty small minority on this subject. BTW, I totally agree with swamp coolers, and heat that doesn’t require electrical power too. Hopefully our information will help others who will read this…

My first experience with solar was when the promoters conned me into converting a cargo van. (VERY BAD CHOICE) Following their directions, I had 600 watts of solar professionally installed where they recommended. Price tag $3k. Then I added 3x 100ah batteries @ $350 each, again, their recommendation. I think my 3kw PSW inverter was close to another $1k. So ~$5k for my power system that I was led to believe would supply more power than I would ever need.

I had been living in campers for many years before that, so I wasn’t a newbie. All of my previous campers had their house batteries charged by driving, generator, or shore power. Always mainly just by driving, and power had never been much of a problem.

After the cargo van build, my next stop was Seattle. My new heater needed power, my new fridge needed power, my new roof vents needed power. Suddenly I NEEDED much more power than previously. With my other campers I never needed to run any lights during the day because I always had lots of windows, but in that cargo van I needed to run lights during the day too. Even with a ton of insulation, I swear that thing was hotter in the summer & colder in the winter than anything else I’ve ever had.

Seattle was dark and gloomy, and the solar alone couldn’t keep up, but I had no meters or gauges to tell me anything, and nobody even suggested that I might need them. So I thought I was happy with my power system, even though I hated the cargo van. I was urged to leave feedback about the power system, so I left a glowing review. Two months later all 3 batteries were flat dead and not salvageable.

So those 2 months of power cost me $1k in batteries. I replaced them with $100 batteries with the same specs. Two months later, same scenario. Another $300 down the drain, but I replaced them yet again. By then I was angry & miserable, but it was spring and I attended a rally. They told me I needed additional charging sources, and the equipment to monitor exactly what was going on. So I bought a generator for almost $1k, a battery charger, and misc. monitoring stuff for hundreds more so I could babysit the system.

With the right equipment, it became obvious that 600w of solar wasn’t enough to keep up in Seattle. By now I’m in Oregon, and started taking classes on alternative energy systems, including solar. I was determined to figure out how to make solar work. 3 rigs, and 3 solar systems later, I came to the conclusion that my previous pre-solar methods were far superior, cheaper, and more reliable. Since ditching solar, 12v power hog compressor fridges, inverters etc. and going back to my minimalistic power consumption, I’ve never had another problem with power. For the record, it should be noted that I did not downgrade my lifestyle, comfort, or convenience. I still have every amenity I want or need, they just require no power, or far less power.

Cheers!


"Looking back, solar was a huge & costly mistake." ~ SimplySally


I think a lot of people don’t understand electrical power, limitations, and how these off-grid systems work. That’s why I wrote a tutorial on installing solar.

Success in terms of electrical power while living in a vehicle, requires a paradigm shift to a minimalist mindset. Expecting the conveniences of brick & mortar living leads to an expensive and oversized system that’s too large and complex and much harder to maintain. The biggest part of a successful system is understanding your electrical budget, and part of that is understanding that heating and refrigerated air conditioning are the biggest power hogs and don’t fit well into a small and streamlined off-grid system. Heating should use carbon-based fuels such as wood, charcoal, coal, propane, diesel, kerosene, etc. and water should be used for cooling. These methods consume little to no electricity.

If I lived in Seattle, or any other place where it’s dark and dreary most of the time I’d probably double the size of the solar array, and look for other ways to supplement charging such as a smart battery charger plugged into shore power. I carry a 10 amp Genius 10 charger in case it’s needed, but haven’t needed it so far - it also doubles as a charger for the starting battery in an emergency.

Solar installation tutorial: