hey y’all, I’m Jack. I’m a filmmaker, golf bum and recent van owner currently living in Oklahoma City. I quit my job at Barstool Sports in July and bought a 1988 Chevy G20 camper van. My plan and ultimate goal is to travel the country playing as much golf for as cheap as possible while documenting the journey. I’ve already started the vlog, but the road trip has unfortunately been put on hold.
I’ve been bringing my van into my mechanic so she runs smoothly. But I’ve run into a hurdle I would really appreciate some help with. I want to add 300W of solar to the top of my van so I can charge some electronics while I’m on the road. Right now the van is set up for shore power. I’m looking for someone that can convert it from shore power, to also be able to run off of the solar.
Unfortunately the solar expert I had found recently broke his arm rock climbing and had to cancel. I can’t seem to find anyone local, or semi local, or really anyone in the US that can/will do this (I am fully willing to drive anywhere in the country to get this done.) I’ve been searching the internet with no luck, however this is the first forum I’ve joined in the hopes that y’all can point me in the right direction. I know that I can figure out all the electric etc and do it myself, but at this point since I have zero electrical experience and want to get on the road asap, I really would like to pay someone to do it right. I’m not sure who/what I should be looking for. Solar experts (almost everyone I’ve found is Sprinter Van only) or a local electrician or what?
Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thank you all,
Greetings & Welcome!
I totally eliminated any need for solar by simply using a cheap isolator. Any battery or stereo shop should be able to install one cheaply. The people with those high powered stereos usually have an additional battery with an isolator.
For reference, I also switched to using cheap used deep cycle batteries from wrecking yards for under $20. I get 5-7 years out of them.
"Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst." ~ Murphy
Hi @JackParkerElliott and welcome
I’m not entirely sure how it works in the US as I’m currently converting in the U.K. and have always done my electrics myself. But if it’s similar then reaching out to a van conversion company is probably your best bet. Literally google “van conversion near me” and I’m sure something will pop up. Reach out to those guys, many will be able to offer purely electrical installation (including solar), if they can’t they’re bound to be able to put you in touch with someone who can.
Hope this helps
Hey Jack. I would be willing to help. A few questions that would need to be answered would be.
What all in the van needs to be powered by solar.
Fridge, Microwave, Outlets, Water Pump, Lights, Furnace, etc…
I’m not exactly familiar with a 88 Chevy Horizon, but most camper vans all have the same needs.
Once we can determine the power draws needed on a daily basis we can determine a proper sized battery bank, and amount of solar needed to keep the battery bank topped off.
hi Jonathon, really glad to hear you can help me out!
The solar would need to power…
Outlets, a water pump just for the toilet, lights, furnace, and a 2015 Dometic fridge that I’m considering running mostly on LP but am not sure how feasible that plan actually is. The outlets would be used to charge phones, laptops and camera batteries (but not charging all devices every day)
When I was doing my initial research and talking to my now-injured solar guy, I had originally planned on also powering the built in Coleman TSR AC unit until he informed me that would require way too much energy and while getting very little actual AC time. He also said if I wanted to do that, I would also need an Easystart capacitor installed into the AC unit, because they take so much power just to turn on. My plan/hope now is to strictly use the fan setting on the AC, rather than the actual cooling. My assumption is that if we install the Easystart capacitor, I can at least use the fan setting for circulation and it won’t drain all of my power. I’d appreciate any and all insight here.
I believe I want no less than 300W of solar (and probably can only fit exactly that much on the roof anyway) as well as a smart inverter. The van came with a 500A deep cycle Napa Marine/RV battery. So I’d need at least one more battery, possibly two, if I’m correct.
Let me know if that all makes sense or if I missed anything. Thanks,
Cool. I think everything sounds reasonable. I agree with your former solar guy about the AC, and I would even recommend giving up the idea of the AC on recirculate and go for a MaxxAir or Fantastic Fan, that way you can bring outside air into the van, or exhaust air.
The 500 A NAPA battery will provide roughly 62-75 amp hours at 12v based on my research, so you will definitely want 1 more battery in my opinion. Many of these things just come down to usage questions. Are you planning on traveling often, or staying at locations for a week or so? I assume the van already has an inverter, but I would like a little more information on it.
I think people are confusing cold cranking amps (engine starting battery) with deep cycle amps (house battery). CCA won’t help you when it comes to running your lights or laptop. You need a deep cycle battery, A starting battery won’t survive many deep cycles.
Possibly, the particular battery I was looking at he mentioned was a “NAPA Marine Starting/Deep Cycle” I would post a link, but it won’t let me since I’m a new member here.
A “starting/deep cycle” battery is a compromise that won’t work as well or last as long as a true deep cycle battery.
Cool. I’m definitely open to a Maxxair or Fantastic Fan. There is currently a small circular Ventline Vanair in the back which could potentially be replaced by a slightly bigger fan. I’ll also look into finding/buying another deep cycle battery.
Once I’m on the road, I’ll be living in the van full time. I plan on staying in one location for a couple weeks at a time, but I will still be driving around every day while I’m in each spot. My plan is to stay at free camp sites, rather than pay for proper RV camps every night, which is my main reason for wanting solar, as I won’t be able to plug into shore power. I assume it has an inverter as well and just went to check but wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for or where.
I really like my solar charging system. No noise, no smoke, no fuel to buy, very little maintenance, and doesn’t piss off the neighbors. Works great for my needs. With panels less than $1 per watt nowadays it’s a no-brainer. Nowadays the $10,000 that Van Dweller talks about will pay for an entire home solar system, installed. Our power bill has been $8.19 a month (meter fee) ever since we installed ours for less than $10K.
That said, you won’t be powering an air-conditioning system with solar on a van (refrigerated air), but as long as you’re realistic with your usage solar on a van can work very well.
If you are going to be driving 2-3 times a week, you may benefit just as much from a B2B charger or alternator charging as you would solar, and van dweller said, it would be more reliable in times of snow, shade, or overcast days. If I were in your shoes, I’d upgrade the vent fan, add a couple solar panels, an alternator charger, and one more battery. Once you find out what inverter the van has, we can tackle the questions around it, and if you want to make the investment to upgrade it if necessary.
Can we please agree that a $99 dollar generator from harbor freight is not a cheap, reliable and efficient power source? It sucks gas consistently and is louder than sin. Probably cheaper made than today’s vans. I’m sorry this is poor advice.
Life has been a milllion times easier with solar compared to an isolator/generator combo. We have all three and solar hands down wins this race of affordability, reliability and overall cost. You can get a decent solar setup for less than $500 that is extensible.
Don’t be the guy at the campground running a generator from harbor freight or Lowe’s that is not meant to be quiet and was never a consideration when being built. Unless it operates below 50db, don’t do it.
Don’t forget you need to carry around a lot of gas to run that generator. You lose space with that. Also with the amount of forest fires it’s simply bad practice to be running one at all. Especially if they don’t have spark arrestors and are not CARB certified.
Buy a generator as an absolute last resort for power. With solar and an isolator chances are you’ll never need it if your power expectations are realistic.
IF the opinions of the MAJORITY of the people with solar at the rallies changes, then I’ll consider agreeing with you, and maybe even revisiting solar. The problem is that the vast majority of people at the rallies who have solar HATE it, and wish they’d never heard of it. The opinions of the majority on solar, is beyond my control or yours. I’m simply reporting the reality of it.
As far as generators go, the cheap Chinese (I’m guessing…) generators have come a long way. They are effectively quiet & efficient Honda clones these days, and yes they are CARB compliant and have spark arrestors too. They get about 8 hours of run time per gallon of gas. So no, I absolutely can not agree that those cheap generators are a poor choice.
A friend just bought one of those cheap generators last week for $105. His solar wasn’t working, and the generator in his RV quit working, which is what he had been using. We had him back up and running within hours with the new generator. It was the most obvious, cheapest, quickest, and easiest solution available. If nothing else, it has bought us time to troubleshoot his other problems.
I’m not suggesting ANY generator as a primary source of power. I’m suggesting them as a backup plan, and in order to stay self sufficient,
a generator is often quicker & easier to replace than other necessary repair/replacement options, and certainly more versatile. If your inverter dies, a generator can supply the needed AC power. A generator can charge dead batteries, day or night, rain or shine. A generator is one of the most useful and versatile choices available to any of us for a backup power plan.
"Be a credit to the human race, and make the world a better place." ~ Off Grid
I must thank all of you for articulating the different sides of this issue. I’m actually enamored with using whale oil; but, it’s getting harder to procure. I’ve got a long term source lined up; but, my aunt Doris looks like she’s gonna live for quite some time.
Axel, you’ve got a home unit for $10 grand. Did you install that yourself? The reason I ask is because I know 2 people who have had solar installed and both of them are not happy. And according to them, $10k is considerably less than 1/2 of what they both payed for the installation and neither has a large home. They also aren’t getting very much of a reduction in their electricity bills. Perhaps it was a poor installation in each case? Faulty equipment? It seems unlikely. And the installers have been out to check both systems and claim nothing is amiss.
And when we had a power outage, both of them were left in the dark!
I personally don’t know; however, the only two solar consumers I’ve ever met both hate the systems.
@Van_Dweller - what majority at what rallies? Certainly not this year or anything I’ve been too. In two years of traveling I’ve not met a single person who said, “man I wish I never installed solar”. Quite the opposite actually.
I’m sorry, but i’m calling BS on this one. Telling people to get a cheap generator over solar is simply bad advice.
Telling someone to get anything from harbor freight that has moving parts is even worse advice. You don’t buy things from there that you want to last.
Farmboy, our home solar cost about $9700 before taxes, which we paid cash for upfront, and we just got the 26% Federal tax break on it, and the State of New Mexico is giving another 10%. In total our system, installed by the most experienced solar contractor in the state (Luz Energy) will cost us around $6200.
Here’s a graph of our solar output for today. Our power bill has been $8.19 per month since it was installed. We’re producing more than we use.
Don’t be fooled by the garbage that right-wing, in bed with fossil fuel interest flakes are telling you. The reality is that solar works, and it works great despite using more energy from being home almost 24 hours a day due to working from home. We haven’t changed any of our other power-use habits either - we still leave lights on all over the house, watch just as much TV etc.
My friends got the fed rebate but NC didn’t cough up their dough. I don’t know why my friends’ systems don’t do well. I assume that you have the batteries with it. I also don’t know why the poor performance of the 2 systems. I suggested to one that he bring in a retired electrician we know to check the output.
Though I’ve never used it, I’ve always kinda had a nerd crush on solar. Long time ago I went to some kind of conference out there and attended a discussion with some alpha nerds from Sandia talking about solar and batteries both.
As for flakes, I distrust Demopublicans and Republocrats.
As LIly Tomlin said, “No matter how cynical you get, it’s impossible to keep up,”
In terms of a van solar charging system I really don’t understand what could fail. The system consists of two fairly simple and reliable components - a solar panel and a charge controller. The rest is the same wether you have solar or not.
Farm boy our van has batteries of course, but our home solar does not. Our home solar simply runs the meter backwards, banking the excess energy which goes into helping power the grid. When the sun goes down the meter runs forward, but we always produce more than we use… the meter runs backwards more than forwards. If the power goes out, ours goes out too, but our power here in NM is far more reliable than most. Adding batteries would double the cost, and add the expense of battery maintenance and replacement. Our house system consists of panels, inverters, and the grid interconnect - very low maintenance. If the panels get dirty I may go up on the roof to clean them, but don’t really bother; next time it rains they’ll be clean.