Embarking on the journey of van life as a solo female adventurer was a decision fueled by my desire for freedom and a closer connection to nature. A crucial aspect of this lifestyle is energy independence, and that led me down the path of installing a solar-powered battery system in my self-converted van. In a series of blog posts, in detail, I'll take you through the process of wiring two 210-watt Newpowa solar panels with a 100-volt MPPT Victron charge controller, a Novopal 2000-watt 12-volt inverter, all connected to a robust Redodo 200-amp hour LiFePO4 lithium battery. The journey wasn't just about wiring; it was about empowerment and embracing a self-sustaining lifestyle.
I will be breaking down the system build and process into different blog posts to make it more digestable, they will be as follows:
Chapter 1: Planning the Solar Setup
Before I could dive into the hands-on work, meticulous planning was essential. I carefully calculated my energy needs, factoring in everything from LED lights and a tiny 12v refrigerator to charging my laptop and other electronic devices. This thoughtful planning laid the foundation for the entire installation process. I spent endless hours scouring the internet from blog posts to YouTube vidoes, soaking in every bit of information I could find. As someone who has never done any kind of electrical work ever, even though I was a licensed residential contractor in Florida (a lifetime ago), it did me no good in this situation! I found great resources and adapted them to my own needs, and read, and reread/watched over and over again, every scrap of information I could find, to make sure I fully understood what I needed to make my off-grid, tiny home on wheels, energy sufficient.
I also meticulously planned out where I would be placing the battery, inverter, etc. in the van, taking into consideration storage space, weight, and balancing with other heavy components of the van build.
Chapter 2: Selecting the Components
Once I determined my energy needs, choosing the right components was crucial for a reliable solar power system. I opted for two 210-watt Newpowa solar panels for their efficiency, price and compact size. The 100-volt MPPT Victron charge controller promised maximum power harvest from the panels, ensuring I could make the most of the available sunlight. To convert and store this energy, I selected a Novopal 2000-watt 12-volt inverter and a Redodo 200-amp hour LiFePO4 lithium battery, renowned for its long life, lightweight design, and consistent performance.
Chapter 3: Mounting the Solar Panels and Maxx Air Fan
I wanted to get them in place before the winter weather set in and made climbing onto the icy metal roof hazardous. With the wiring complete, I turned my attention to the solar panels' physical installation. I strategically placed them on the van roof, taking into consideration where my Maxx Air Fan was (first thing I installed on the van) and where the wires for the panels would need to go through the roof to attach them to the battery system. I found the perfect, robust Renogy brackets to ensure the panels could withstand the rigors of life on the road.
I have videos on YouTube showing how I mounted and installed the solar panels, and Maxx Air Fan on my Ford Transit roof ~
Chapter 4: The Wiring Process
This was by far the most time consuming aspect of the solar system, but so important to get just right before finishing the rest of the van build. I prewired everything, and with the help of the internet I created my own diagram to follow along when the time came to connect the entire sytem, and also to assist when I enlisted the help of my nephew to complete the final wiring process. I will be sharing the diagram when this blog post goes live.
Wiring became my canvas, and the electrical components, my brushes. Armed with knowledge gained from extensive research and online forums, I began the intricate process of connecting the entire system, which at first felt like a maze I would never escape from, but through due diligence and perseverance I came to understand all the intricacies of the wiring process.
Using high-quality cables and connectors, I ensured minimal energy loss and maximum efficiency. IMPORTANT NOTE! Always connect the battery terminal wires to the charge controller first, next connect the solar panels to the charge controller. Never connect a solar panel to charge controller first, it can damage the componenets.
And full disclosure, I did have a little help connecting the wires to the battery, fuse box, etc., after I had prewired everything, running the wires to where they would permanently provide power to my outlets and lights. It just so happened that my nephew Sterling is an electrician and was only a two hour drive away, so I enlisted his help so as not to electrocute myself, haha! We spent several hours, catching up, visiting with his three adorable little boys, and giving life to my electrical system. That moment when we first turned it on and batedly held our breath, waiting for the power to surge through the carefully placed wires and into the tiny light I held in my anxious hand...and then, there was light!! I will never forget that moment, it was so exhiliarating, and empowering, to know that I had created my own off-grid power from nothing but a dream and resilience. The hum of energy coursing through my van was a moment of triumph that motivated me to continue with renewed engergy and determination to finish my build and finally hit the open road.
With my solar-powered battery system in full swing, I embraced the freedom of off-grid living. Charging my devices, running my refrigerator, powering up my StarLink for wifi anywhere on the road. The silent hum of the Novopal inverter powering my small sanctuary on wheels was a testament to the success of my DIY solar installation. My journey into van life with a self-installed solar-powered battery system has been transformative. Beyond the practical benefits of energy independence, the process empowered me with a new set of skills and a deeper connection to my nomadic lifestyle. As a solo female van lifer, I've not only harnessed the sun but also my own capacity for self-reliance and adventure. The open road and the power of the sun are now my constant companions on this extraordinary journey.
Join me as I detail what it took to become energy sufficient in my upcoming blog posts as I journal the process, I hope it can help you to get out on the open road and enjoy a life of freedom from the shackles of energy reliance.
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220 Watt Solar Panels (they were 210 watts when I purchased)
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