OUR 12V & SOLAR SETUP
Obviously the possibilities are endless when it comes to powering your camping setup and a lot of it depends on two main factors; how you camp and how much you want to spend!
We may be a little different from most weekend and holiday campers but the principals and products are the same. So hopefully we can give you an idea of exactly how we make everything work and why we did things a certain way.
See video of our cars 12v setup here
The Car – 2011 Mitsubishi Pajero
We bought this car recently, and it was still factory standard meaning it needed a fair bit of work to get it ready for touring. Nathan installed the entire 12v/duel battery/solar set up in the car himself, saving us a fair bit in Auto electrician fees!
The main item that needs a power supply in our vehicle is a 65l Techni-ice fridge/freezer that we run solely as a fridge. We have also installed a Redarc 700W pure sine wave inverter in the back area of the car so we need to be able to run this as well. Most of the time we run the inverter to charge batteries on things like the laptop, drone, phones & power tools. But we also use it for some appliances, like a stick mixer so we can make things like smoothies/fruit juices and soups. We tend to try and charge most items when we are driving which was the main reason we installed the inverter in the car rather than the camper trailer, although we have no dramas using it at camp as well, as long as we have sufficient sun to keep the batteries topped up. It is important to note that an inverter should be of the pure sine wave variety if you are charging sensitive batteries so you don’t damage them.
To make all this work we have a 100AH battery in the rear well of the car. This is charged while the car is running but also through a solar panel fixed permanently to the roof. The best thing we did was get a Redarc BCDC charger which takes charge from the alternator and the roof mounted 120W solar panel simultaneously to charge the battery to 100%. We can also plug in other solar panels through an Anderson plug at the rear of the car if needed, but this is rarity.
The Camper Trailer – 2017 Cub Campers Escape
Again the main item for power use is another fridge (we run one in both the car & the camper), but this time it is a 57l Engel combi that is run as a fridge AND a freezer. This has the highest usage of any of our items at around 4 amps.
Other items that are run on the trailers 12V supply are:
Two Sirocco 12v fans
Multiple LED lighting inside and out
USB ports to charge phones/torches/shower pump (these can also be charged in the car)
Water pump for sink
A diesel heater which uses 12V to run the fan
The power source behind all this is a single 130AH battery which is just enough depending on how hot the ambient temperature is, obviously the hotter it is the harder the fridge is going to work and the more drain on the battery there is. We are actually thinking about swapping the two batteries around if there is enough room, as we probably need the larger capacity in the trailer, rather than the car.
So to make all this work we have an awesome battery management system (BMS) from Redarc. This unit does it all, 240V charging when plugged in at a caravan park, DC to DC charging from the start battery via an Anderson plug at the front of the trailer (when driving) and finally solar input at the side of the trailer again through an Anderson plug when at camp. Not only that but it gives us fantastic information about the state of our batteries, and how much power is coming in & out.
As mentioned above we have fitted a 120W panel to the roof of the car which is fantastic, we have never had to worry about the cars dual battery since doing this in conjunction with the BCDC charger. On top of this we have a cheap ebay purchase 200W folding panel that is generally enough for the trailer as well as a 115W Redarc solar blanket which is fantastic. The Redarc Solar Blanket is around half the weight of an equivalent glass panel and folds to a fraction of the size. We use this to top up the car or trailer as needed or sometimes in place of the folding panel. It is worth mentioning that with this set up we never need 240V power unless we get multiple days in a row where it is really overcast and we’ve done no driving. The good thing about the cheap solar panels is we aren’t afraid to leave them behind at a campsite for the day, because even if they get nicked it’s not the end of the world. However the solar blanket is worth a lot more money (for good reason, it’s smaller, lighter, and more efficient!) so we tend to make sure we only use it when we’re around to keep an eye on it!
See a video of our campers 12v setup here
Hopefully this helps point you in the right direction or gives you some idea of what might or might not work. We initially left home with just an isolator in the car, which sent charge to both the car and trailer AUX batteries without draining the starter. We had the 120W folding solar panel which is now on top of the car and found for our type of travel and usage it just wasn’t anywhere close to enough. Our 12v setup has been a work in progress, and we’ve developed it as we travel, to the point that it now suits our needs exceptionally well. If you’re just starting out one of the best things you can do is work out roughly how much power consumption you will have and build from there. There are thousands of products on the market, but we’ve found Redarc to be fantastic, and we’ve been able to mix our Redarc products in with some cheaper eBay purchases to find a good balance cost wise. For example a great DC/DC charger will really maximise the power you get from your panels to your battery, even if the panels themselves are cheaper ones.