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The DIY solar electrical system in a camper van conversion or RV enables the use of 120 volt equipment like a microwave, coffee maker, or conventional laptop charger.
Standard 2- or 3-prong plugs like those found in a home cannot be used without an inverter.
While the batteries in a solar power system are (nearly invariably) 12 volts, these plugs are 120 volts.
The inverter converts the 12V DC from the battery to 120V AC to power the appliances.
Always search for 12V versions when buying electrical items (such as vent fans, lights, and refrigerators).
However, certain appliances, like a blender and a microwave, won’t have 12V versions.
We have a Xantrex ProWatt 2000 inverter, which is clearly necessary gear since we use it every day to charge our computers and coffee makers.
We also use it to recharge our hair clippers, ShopVac, and cordless drill.
We provide background information and how-to instructions so you can choose your purchase wisely.
Our instructions are based on technical study, real-world experience, and the budget van we built and are currently permanently living in.
If you are already knowledgeable or just want the suggestions.
How Much Of A Power Inverter Do You Require?
Based on the amount of continuous power they can deliver, inverters are graded.
To properly size the inverter, we shall add the possible power pulls’ wattages together.
Inverter DC to AC Inefficiency
We must take into consideration some inherent inefficiencies in the conversion process before sizing the inverter.
Inverters typically have an efficiency of 85%.
This means that during the conversion from DC to AC, around 15% of the battery’s DC power is lost.
In order to properly size the inverter, we must thus multiply the wattage draw rating of the appliance by 15% before comparing it to the wattage of the inverter.
Simply add up the wattage needs of all the devices you wish to power at once to determine the size of the inverter you need.
Here Is An Actual Illustration Of How Much AC Power We Use And How We Size Our Inverter:
|Cuisinart Coffee Maker||1,000W|
The entire amount of power we could use is 1,385 watts.
We arrive at a total potential consumption of 1,593 watts after adding 15% for efficiency.
The rice cooker and coffee maker presumably wouldn’t be operating at the same time in this scenario (not exactly complimentary food groups).
Our computers may also be unplugged while we prepare coffee.
Therefore, we may size our inverter at 1,150 watts depending on daily demand (after adding 15 percent ).
(A shout-out for our luxury Cuisinart 10-cup coffee machine.
In particular, it has an insulated carafe, which ensures that the coffee remains hot for at least an hour after the gadget shuts off when the coffee is finished.
Thus, after the coffee is ready, we may switch off the inverter with confidence that no more electricity is being used.
To keep the coffee hot, the majority of coffee makers electrically cycle on and off.
It’s also excellent because its 10-cup capacity enables two individuals to drink more coffee than they need.)
In actuality, we chose the Xantrex ProWatt 2000 2000 watt inverter.
We planned on installing a microwave in the van while we were developing our electrical system, and a typical home microwave may use up to 2,000 watts.
Even though we ultimately decided against acquiring a microwave (which we still believe was the proper course of action), we do have a really powerful inverter.
You should get a battery monitor if you want to view your inverter’s power drain in real time (we probably check our battery monitor 5 times a day).
Without it, it would be impossible to accurately gauge your battery’s energy level and you won’t be able to monitor your power use.
Inverter: Continuous Watts and Peak Surge Watts
But hold on! Some appliances really use three to seven times as many watts at startup as they are rated for.
These “surge watts” are used to kick-start the appliances for a brief period of time.
Microwaves and devices with pumps, compressors, and heaters are examples of appliances that need surge protection.
Check the appliance’s surge demand and the inverter’s peak wattage again if you want to use one of these items.
The peak watts for most inverters are listed in the paperwork, and most of them can handle peak watts that are twice as high as the continuous watt demand.
Modified Sine Wave Inverters vs. Pure Sine Wave Inverters: Differences
Modified sine wave and pure sine wave power inverters are the two different forms.
The currents they are feeding to the 120V devices are as follows:
Modified Sine Waves – Have voltages that rise and fall unevenly and abruptly, then pause for a while at zero before switching polarities.
An “unrefined” signal is created by this uneven variation.
Pure Sine Wave – A waveform that is similar to what is received from the main electrical grid.
Any AC gadget may be operated by this steady current.
Modified Sine Wave inverters may be up to 60% less expensive than Pure Sine Wave inverters, as one would anticipate.
Modified sine wave may cause certain vehicle life equipment to malfunction or even break:
- Battery chargers for hand power tool battery packs.
- possible shortening of the life of laptop chargers
- modern LED TVs and displays
- audio apparatus
- delicate medical supplies
- A van probably wouldn’t include the following gadgets: 120V devices with motors include compressors, printers, and freezers (12V).
Which Inverter Type Should You Purchase?
A MSW inverter will work for you unless you’re using one of the devices mentioned above (be sure to double-check your laptop power supply handbook).
Spend the extra money on a PSW inverter if you want assured clean current today and the option to add appliances later.
1) Make sure you scale up properly if you’re using an induction cooktop.
We advise using a 3,000 watt inverter and a large battery bank with a regular 1,800 watt cooktop.
2) Purchase a clean sine wave.
Do You Need The Ability To Charge Using Shore Power?
Plugging into an external power source to recharge onboard batteries is referred to as “shore power.” These sources might be regular outlets at a friend’s home or hookups at an RV site.
Although the phrase first perplexed us, it turns out that it has nautical roots, which, in hindsight, makes sense.
Since we spend the most of our time boondocking near rock climbing places with excellent sunlight, we opted not incorporate shore power capabilities in our electrical design.
These locations don’t have a lot of outside electricity.
It is usual to install a battery charger as part of the electrical system to access shore power.
Combo Inverters/Chargers a two-in-one gadget.
Three things an inverter/charger can perform are:
- Charger – Use a 120V source to charge the home battery.
- Transfer Switch – When you are hooked into an AC shore power source, the transfer switch will detect it. The item will function as a pass through, power your devices from the AC supply, and, if requested, charge the batteries when the inverter charger detects AC. The inverter charger will switch to invert or DC mode and power your gadgets off of the batteries when it senses a lack of AC.
If you’ll be close to charging stations and will be traveling during overcast winter days, shore power can be a fantastic solution for you.
Your setup may be made simpler with an inverter/charger.
Best Power Inverters for Solar Systems in Vans and RVs
Favorite Inverter for Most Systems Overall:
#1. AIMS Power Pure Sine Wave Inverter
- Strong guarantee and approved safety specifications
- Pure Sine Wave
- Lowest cost among PSW rivals
The greatest pure sine inverter for balancing price and performance is this 1,000W model.
Nearly all of a road warrior’s power requirements can be met with 1,000W.
We advise the 2,000W version if you have a microwave or induction cooktop.
It is 90 percent efficient, UL certified, and has a grounded GFCI outlet.
It is also far less expensive than comparable rivals.
With a 20-year history, AIMS offers a 2-year warranty from its Reno, Nevada, headquarters.
A AIMS Remote Switch should be included so that you may switch the inverter off between usage.
If You Won’t Be Utilizing Delicate Devices, Acquire A Cheap Inverter.
#2. KRIËGER Modified Sine Wave Inverter
- The 3-year warranty is longer than typical, affordable, and has excellent ratings. UL accredited.
- Consists of a remote switch (other brands sell it separately)
- Use any 12V battery (some MSW inverters are incompatible with Lithium batteries)
- Many appliances are incompatible with modified sine waves.
Compared to Pure sine wave inverters, modified sine wave inverters are substantially less expensive, but they cannot safely power certain “sensitive” products.
With the raw power, certain laptops and monitors/TVs can have problems.
However, if you can use modified sine wave (see our comparison section above), the KRIGER inverter provides all the features we want at the lowest price.
We advise Samlex SAM inverters if you’re seeking for a lesser capacity budget inverter: 250W | 450W | 800W
If You’re Developing A New System And Don’t Yet Have An Inverter Or A Charger For Shore Power:
#3. AIMS Power Pure Sine Inverter/Charger
- With a sophisticated transfer switch, a pure sine inverter
- Simplifies charging with shore power, perhaps increasing battery life
- Comparatively more affordable than comparable inverters/chargers
- Not UL approved. At a higher price range, AIMS provides UL-certified inverter/chargers (but still cheaper than competitors)
This AIMS device is really a combination inverter and shore power charger rather than simply an inverter.
Combination inverters and chargers provide all the features of separate devices in a single unit.
Your system becomes more simpler as a result, and you need to purchase less cabling and fuses.
In comparison to installing the gadgets individually, it is also lighter and smaller.
All the typical characteristics of an inverter, such as a low-voltage battery warning, GFCI outlets, and a 3x surge capacity, are included in this inverter/charger.
Additionally, you may charge your battery using shore power by connecting to an external outlet or connection.
Batteries may be charged fast with this unit’s charger rate of 35 amps (420 watts), and an integrated “smart charger” can modify charging profiles depending on the battery status.
Make sure you get this LED Remote Panel, which is compatible with this inverter/charger, from AIMS, since they supply a variety of external switches for various inverter models.
You should be aware that this inverter is not UL approved.
At a higher price range, AIMS also offers 1,000W and 1,500W UL-certified inverters/chargers.
Additionally, these inverters are around 4% more effective (92 percent vs. 88 percent ).
How To Install a Power Inverter and Use It
Here are some considerations for the installation and use of your new inverter:
Your battery and inverter’s connections must be exact and tight.
The hazard increases with increasing current size.
Unfortunately, we can speak from experience when we say that a loose connection occurs when the nut on the terminal is not tightened sufficiently against the ring connections.
Our inverter would shriek when we first used our coffee machine, which was our biggest 120V demand, signaling low battery voltage.
After some assistance and troubleshooting, we discovered the inverter’s positive connection was loose.
Although it didn’t seem to be loose in actuality, a closer inspection revealed that it could be much tighter.
Although there is a happy ending in this tale since everything is working out now, things might have been far worse and it may still happen to you! Once again, the connections between your battery and inverter must be secure and flawless.
The accuracy of these matters the most for your solar system.
Verify that the rate of battery depletion can accommodate your inverter.
The spec sheet for your battery will include this rate.
The maximum continuous discharge of the RELiON 100Ah battery, for instance, is 100A, or 1,200W.
With that battery, you should only use the inverter for 1,000W loads.
We have further information about choosing a battery.
To cut down on the length of the wire run, place your inverter as near as you can to your battery.
Choose the appropriate cables and fuses.
Larger wires are required when the electrical current is greater and/or the distance it must travel is longer.
To guard against a surge, the positive cable has to include a fuse.
This terminal fuse, which has one side fastened to the bolt on the positive terminal of the inverter, is advised.
The general guideline for cable size is as follows:
|500W-800W||2 AWG||80A or 150A|
* You must purchase the terminal mount block in addition to the fuses.
The mount block is then positioned with your exact fuse.
Your inverter to battery wire route may be more than five feet (but seriously, plan ahead to minimize that).
If so, this article’s recommended cable/fuse sizes for lengths up to 10 feet may be found there.