Posted: 13-11-2018 Written by: Editorial office Reading time: 5 minutes
Power in campers: inverters, solar panels and batteries

Power in campers: inverters, solar panels and batteries

With a cup of coffee and some music under the awning, reading a book indoors in the evening, a cool drink from the refrigerator – camping without electricity is almost unthinkable. With the caravan you plug the plug into the campsite's power pole. What about electricity in campers?

Many campers spend the night at campsites and many of the camper sites intended for campers also have a power pole. But the charm of the camper is precisely the freedom: stand where you want. The refrigerator works fine on gas, but if you want to get a cup of coffee from your Nespresso machine, you need some more technical applications.

The basics of electricity in campers

First the basics: campers have two batteries: one for the car part and a separate on-board battery. The latter is used for the interior lighting of the camper, the water tap and, for example, for flushing the toilet. In addition, there is a 230V network in the camper. This ensures that the sockets work and, for example, the refrigerator. But this only works if the camper is connected to the power pole of the campsite or camper site.

Electricity for campers

Need inverter

If you are completely 'in the wild', your on-board battery plays a crucial role. If you want to use your Nespresso machine, the hairdryer, or if you want to charge the e-bikes and laptop, you need an inverter. This turns the 12 volts from your on-board battery into 230 volts.

When purchasing, make sure that you choose an inverter – they are also called an 'inverter' – with sufficient capacity. For a Nespresso machine you need one with 1500 Watts. Another important aspect is that you choose a device that delivers a pure sine wave. The power is then the same as from your socket at home.

Vulnerable equipment, anything with a printed circuit board, will break down more quickly if you use an inverter that does not supply a pure sine wave. A regular coffee machine can handle that, but a Nespresso or television cannot. These inverters are a bit more expensive, but your vulnerable equipment continues to function safely. Finally: there are also inverters with a priority switch, such as the NDS 1500 IVT. The priority switch detects that the camper is connected to a power pole and ensures that power is only drawn from the mains. This way you only use the batteries when necessary.

Solar panels for power

The use of lighting and equipment slowly depletes the on-board battery. It will be charged again as soon as you drive or as soon as the camper is connected to the power pole again. If you stay longer in a place without electricity, you can charge batteries with solar panels. They use sunlight – but also normal daylight, on cloudy days – to slowly charge the batteries. Usually it is an aid, because the capacity of solar panels depends on consumption - it rarely covers the entire energy needs of your camper. But you can stay in that one beautiful spot for a few days longer. However, the most important part of such a system is not the solar panel, but the control box. Cheap panels use PWM controllers, but NDS, for example, opts for MPPT controllers that are on average about 40 percent more efficient, especially on cloudy and colder days - the further north you go, the more benefit you get from such an MPPT panel . If you choose Blackline panels, the advantage is that they can convert more daylight into an electrical signal due to their black color. But black panels also heat up faster, which can cause them to work less well. NDS has solved this by equipping the solar cells with thicker wiring strips. This means that they continue to function fully even under warmer conditions.

Battery power for campers

Batteries for power

There are different types of on-board batteries for campers, such as old-fashioned lead-acid batteries and more modern AGM batteries. You must not discharge the first one further than 50 percent, AGMs must be discharged up to 35 percent, otherwise they will break. Lithium batteries are relatively new. They have a few important advantages: they can be discharged 100 percent. With a battery with a capacity of 100Ah you also have 100Ah. While with a 100Ah lead-acid battery you only have 50Ah available - after all, you are not allowed to discharge it more than 50 percent. For the same capacity as lithium, you actually need two lead-acid batteries. And then the weight: a 100Ah lithium battery weighs 13 kilos versus 30 kg for a 100Ah battery. Times two, because we just calculated that you need two lead-acid batteries to effectively have 100Ah available - so that saves a lot of holiday luggage. Another advantage is that you can charge lithium batteries much faster. The built-in electronics on board take care of this. An hour's drive and the battery is almost full again.

There are also disadvantages: the price. Count on around 1400 euros for a complete system. But that includes the Battery Management System and a fast charger. However, a lithium system lasts much longer: a good lead-acid battery can be discharged and charged 400 times, while a lithium battery only wears out after about 1500 charging cycles. So we bet you'll just move it to your next camper?

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