Self-sufficient travel is what many globetrotters want. Not having to rely on electricity at a campsite means freedom and flexibility; Especially when you work on the go, like us, there should be no lack of electricity. We have fulfilled our dream of building a camper yourself or a completely individual campervan and would like to tell you about our offgridtec solar system.
The decision to live full-time in a van was made quickly after a few weeks of traveling, working and living with and in the van. Initially, we were traveling with a VW T6 California Ocean, which gave us a lot of freedom thanks to its compact dimensions and, thanks to the 4motion all-wheel drive, gave us the best sleeping places on the coast of Spain, Portugal and Greece even in difficult terrain. Together with the offgridtec FSP-2 160W Ultrakit , which consisted of a Victron solar charge controller and a 160 watt solar bag , we were almost self-sufficient. Only our 60 liter water supply and the 40 liter refrigerator limited us a bit.
It was clear to us that we would not only want to lead this lifestyle for the initially planned 9 months, but for an unlimited period of time . However, this also went hand in hand with the desire for a somewhat larger vehicle that we can also adapt to our individual needs. A large sink, a shower with hot water, significantly more water, electricity and space in the refrigerator. A mobile apartment for living, working and traveling – thanks to our positive experience with offgridtec solar solutions for power generation, we also wanted to equip our self-expanding camper with it again.
offgridtec solar system as a competent partner when it comes to solar systems
With our plan to equip our own campervan with solar energy , we turned to offgridtec. With our personal contact person for the entire planning and construction process, we felt we were well advised. All future consumers in the camper were clarified in advance and the respective consumption. With this data, offgridtec put together the ideal solar solution for us, because in addition to complete complete systems , offgridtec also offers individually adapted systems , which in our case were also the right choice.
Our consumers and the conditions on the roof
As already mentioned, all consumers that we will use in Vanlife are clarified for the individual offer . Listed in a table, in addition to power and service life, the voltage of the respective consumer is queried. With us, all permanently installed components run on 12V . After careful consideration, we came to the following consumers:
- Parking heater – consumption varies depending on the outside temperature
- Fridge consumption varies depending on the outside temperature
- water pump
- Ceiling lights
- 10m LED stripes
- Skylight fan
- Regular charging of MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iPad Pro and two iPhones
Of course, the consumption varies depending on the season. So you need less light in summer because it can still be bright enough in the van until 9 p.m. In winter, on the other hand, the ceiling spots and LED strips burn from 4 p.m. and the parking heater has to work harder. Nevertheless, we have tried to note down all consumers at their peak times so that even when everything comes together, we still have enough power.
The electricity is fed into a lithium ion battery from Liontron with 110Ah * . Since we know from the VW Bulli how much electricity we need to store and this is now available to us as lithium-ion storage instead of a lead battery, the decision was made after less thought. As it turned out after several weeks of use , that was the right decision. And where does the energy come from in the battery? From two solar panels on the roof . On the van we have a remaining area of about 1.50 x 1.65 m for the solar panels through the roof window installed at the rear. With all these values and information, offgridtec has now put together an individual solar systemthat should meet our requirements.
Our individual solar system – the most important components at a glance
A few days after our list was sent in, offgridtec suggested our solar system. We would now like to introduce you to the most important components and products that will ultimately guarantee us the electricity in the interior for all consumers.
- Offgridtec SWM-24 180W solar module *:Two ofthesemodulesare placed on the roof of the camper. We then have a total of 360 watts of maximum power availableto produce enough electricityin sunshine, butalso under cloudy skies. Incidentally, the panels are attached with black solar module spoilers *that do not change color even after regular exposure to sunlight, such as white ABS, which quickly turns yellow.
- Votronic MPP 430 Duo Digital *: We rely on Votronic for our camper extensions, including the solar charge controller. This is designed for up to430 Wp(watt peak) and thus copes perfectly with our 360 watt maximum output. MPPT charge controllers also draw residual energy from a very cloudy sky, for example to keep the refrigerator running.
- Votronic 3324 VCC 1212-30 12V to 12V *: Charge the battery while driving? This works with a charging converter, also known as a charging booster. In this way, electricity is also produced while driving, should it be very cloudy for many days in a row.
- Offgridtec® PSI Sinus Voltage Converter *: Here we are accompanied by the “RS485”modelwith 1,500 watts or 2,400 watts peak power. With this we charge our MacBooks, but we are also able to run a sandwich maker, a slow juicer or a stovetop with 1,000 watts for a longer period of time. The voltageconverter converts the 12V on-board network into 230V.
Of course, not all components are listed that we need to assemble all the individual parts on the roof and in the van; that would go beyond the scope of this article. But it’s not much more than glue, a roof duct for the power cables of the solar system and connection cables . But how is the whole thing installed after we have received everything?
Installation of the solar system on the roof
With holes in the van for windows it is not enough with a self-assembly camper. The drill must also be used for the gas locker and the solar system. Here the power cable of the offgridtec solar panels is led into the interior of the van, covered by the roof duct . Everything is well sealed and glued. In addition to gluing , the solar panels are also screwed on , including the spoilers , so that you never leave the roof while driving.
Connected to the solar charge controller and wired to the battery, the first rays of sunlight are saved. The voltage converter is also connected and from now on supplies 230V to our double socket with two additional USB-A slots . The entire electronics for the auxiliary heating, stove, LEDs and refrigerator are connected to the battery via a fuse box and are now supplied with the freshly produced solar power. With the voltage converter, it was important to us to keep the on and off switch accessible at all times , so that the converter can also be deactivated if it is not used for a long time. This is how we avoid the minimum power consumption in standby mode.
Use in everyday life – offgridtec solar system on Tour!
After a few weeks of full-time use, we now feel ready for a conclusion. We have many sunny days behind us, but we can also report several days of bad weather. Our Liontron BMS battery can be viewed on the smartphone . Thus we always see the current battery level plus the electricity produced or used in the form of positive and negative current strength.
Our peak production was a good 25A (ampere) on a sunny midday . With medium to thick cloud cover we managed between 2 and 5A; that in any case covered consumers such as refrigerator, lights and water pump. Unused electricity is gradually fed to the battery and let the battery level of our 70% charged battery rise to almost 80% even on a cloudy day. On days with normal weather and partial clouds, the battery was in any case at 100% by 11 a.m. at the latest – thanks to 360 watts!
At no moment did we have the feeling that we would soon be without electricity. Our battery did n’t go below 60% in two to three weeks of use , even after we all ran all consumers. The absolute endurance test with 1-2 weeks of rain and thick cloud cover has not yet occurred, but here too we are confident that the solar panels and the battery alone can provide us well. If all else fails, the charging booster is put into operation and you move to the next parking space.
For everyone who is interested in the exact consumption of our components : Of course, the consumption varies depending on the intensity of use, but on average our LED strips 0.5-1A and our ceiling spots together use around 1.5A. The parking heater needs about 8A at the beginning and about 0.5-1.5A after the 5min hot run phase is completed, depending on the heating level. The refrigerator runs on level 2 with around 4A – depending on the outside temperature, every half an hour for a few minutes or more often. Our experience is that with around 3-4A, which we produce when the cloud cover is strong, we can get through the day well.
offgridtec solar system – Conclusion on the individual solar system in the camper self-assembly
If you want to be completely self-sufficient and travel and live in your own camper for a long time, you shouldn’t do without solar power. Especially when you have to rely on a lot of electrical consumers, be it for life but also for work, more than 300 watts are advisable . The offgridtec solar system, like the rest of the van, is perfectly tailored to our needs. A feeling of freedom not having to drive from socket to socket. Those who are interested in the individual components can follow the products linked above. We recommend all others to take a look at the complete solar systems for mobile homes . For personal advice or any questions that may arise competent employees are always available; we have had good experiences here.