before van dwelling, i never considered what my average electricity usage might look like. i learned early on that it’s likely i would have to trade in my workstation and three monitors for a modest energy efficient laptop.
for cooking, an induction cooktop might be out of the question since it’s a power hog, but i could possibly spend a few bucks on a propane stove and several hundred on a 12v fridge, BUT… that seemed all but convenient.
i decided to temporarily forego a fridge and get a powerful enough system to be able to reasonably use a low wattage system like an instant pot and not have to stress about electricity.
so here’s what i settled on for my girl, trip van stinkle.
basically i have two separate electricity systems.
one goal zero yeti generator i charge via 12v, and a solar system with 3 100 watt panels, and 2 125 amp hour deep cycle agm batteries as a bank.
they run independently of each other. this way, if any of the systems go out, only half our grid is down. more like a brownout.
when i decided to dive headfirst into this, i invested a lot of money into the pieces i thought i would need to have a decent size solar system. my problem was i didn’t know know how to put all the pieces together.
if you’ve put any planning into your electricity stage yet, you know how overwhelming it can be for someone who doesn’t understand electrical.
so i scoured the forums and bought the pieces i thought would fit into the schematic somehow. because i was running low on time and space, i put it all into storage but for the immediate future i needed a solution.
miraculously, i was able to get a great deal on a goal zero yeti lithium generator in the meantime. if you look in the right places, you can get yourself a discounted one either through open box returns or buying used.
the yeti was still a huge investment considering i could have a comparable system, albeit not lithium, but a perfectly capable, functional solar system if i could just figure it out. but i’m an impatient girl, and also the lease was coming up. i justified buying the yeti generator by saying i could always have a backup and wow i am glad i have two.
#1 – DaYeti
okay so obviously my first “system” is my goal zero yeti 1000 lithium.
yes, a lot of people feel like the costdoes not justify the power bank compared to building your own system, but if you’re able to get one at less than full price, it would definitely be worth having – if not for your main source as an electrical noob like i am – then as an addition to your boondocking needs.
the obvious pros of going the lithium generator route is having an all in one solution ready to use out of the box. you don’t immediately have to learn electrical to have a system up and running.
depending on the type of generator you get, you might get a good number of 120v ac plugs, maybe some USB ports, and a couple of 12v cigarette plugs. you don’t even have to think twice about it.
the second pro would be the weight of the lithium battery. what a huge difference this makes. my yeti is 93ah and weighs 40 lbs. when i first got it, i hauled it out about once a week to charge into a wall plug, and it was a piece of cake.
with my agm system, i have 2 125 ah batteries, which you think means i have 250 amp hours total, but since agm batteries don’t like to be run down less than 50% capacity, i only have 125 usable amp hours. so slightly more than my yeti.
the total weight of my two agm batteries? pushing 200 lbs. no way would i be able to easily haul a battery system that size out of my van once a week. i’d pull a muscle, get a hernia. and i don’t have insurance so i ain’t ready for that kind of commitment.
it took several months for me to get a hold of the 12v charger goal zero sells to charge the lithium generators off your car battery.
my life has since been changed. no longer do i have to garner enough energy to carry a 40 lb box 50 feet from my car. nor do i have to be incredibly conservative about my energy usage. and i can charge my laptop!
i don’t have to always sneak my generator into work or steal my friend’s electricity while shes out of the house. i can just continue to drive to and from work as i usually do, and my generator can be charged either at 5 amps, 60 watts, or 10 amps, 120 watts. and i can discharge it all the way down to 0% without affecting the battery life.
#2 – DaSolar
my solar system is the second system i have, though i would probably call it my primary system since it charges back up the most quickly and has the bigger battery bank.
i decided to rely on renogy for the panels, charge controller, cables, and most fuses.
for the batteries, i got 2 vmax deep cycle agm batteries. i chose these over lithium batteries 100% because of the price.
the premium of lithium batteries over agm is not justified based on their weight and whether you can deplete them below 50% or not. for a comparable bank, you’re not just talking about double the price. not even three times the price. on the low end, you’ll be lucky if you can find comparable lithium batteries at 500% the price of agm batteries.
so yes, agm batteries are heavy as hell. this is not a joke. could kill your fuel mileage if you care about that kind of thing.
there are a lot of reasons to choose lithium batteries over agm batteries, including the fact they last longer, but for my immediate future, my decision was initial cost over everything.
on the roof, i have 3 panels that run in parallel – connected to a rover 40 amp mppt solar charge controller. the panels were tricky to have installed because the brackets do not line up well when you stack them 1 row deep, so some brackets only have one screw when they should have two. i might try to reinforce that from the inside somehow if i think there’s a possibility they could come loose.
i have the controller connected to the two batteries, which are then connected to a 1500w pure sine inverter.
so on the day to day, i probably only deplete down to 70% on my solar system, and my batteries are fully recharged by the sun no later than 9 in the morning.
i don’t yet have a fridge but based on the rough calculations i did, i think trip should be okay. i’ve yet to put her through any rigorous tests other than making sure she can charge my laptop, but i am happy as long as she’s functioning smoothly, and i know if i needed a fridge to run 24/7, she could handle it.
if anyone down in the gulf coast area could hook me up with a 12v system for my fan and lights, i already have the fuse block and some fuses, i just know nothing about how to put it all together.
peace in the middle east.